A Dozen Ways To Keep Grilled Food Safe To Eat

grilled-food-safe-to-eatSummer means grilling and barbecue for lots of people. It’s hard to resist juicy burgers, sizzling steaks, fish seared to perfection, and frankfurters crackling and popping and screaming for mustard and relish or sauerkraut.

The food may taste great, but picnics, barbecues, and grilling can create the perfect environment for the bacteria that already reside in food to rapidly multiply and become the cause of a foodborne illness.

It’s really important to follow safe food handling rules when you’re cooking perishable foods like meat, poultry, and seafood and Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to get a little lax about following food handling rules when the grill takes center stage.

Some Grilling Guidelines

  1. Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after you handle the food.  Did you pick up the raw burger or the piece of fish or chicken with your fingers to put it on the grill?
  2. When you marinate your food, let the food sit in the marinade in the refrigerator — not the counter — or even worse, in the sun next to the grill.  Don’t use the marinade that the raw meat or poultry sat in on the cooked food. Instead, reserve part of unused marinade to baste with or to use as a sauce.
  3. Get those coals hot. Preheat the coals on your grill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until they are lightly coated with ash. If you’re using a gas grill, turn on the grill so it has enough time to thoroughly heat up.
  4. When the food is cooked, don’t put it on the same platter that you used to carry the raw food out to the grill.  Ditto for the tongs and spatula unless they’ve been washed first in hot, soapy water. Reusing without washing can spread bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked or ready-to-eat food. Bring a clean platter and utensils with you to the grill and remove the ones that the raw food has been on – it’s too easy to mistakenly reuse the raw food ones.
  5. When grilled food is “ready” keep it hot until it’s served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals or the gas burner. This will keep it hot but prevent it from overcooking. If you reheat food, make sure it reaches 165°F.
  6. Cook only the amount of food that you think people will eat. It’s easy to cook more, but it’s a challenge to keep leftovers at a safe temperature. Throw out any leftovers that haven’t stayed within the safe temperature range.
  7. Use a food thermometer (make sure you have one at home and one to pack for grilling at picnics) to be certain that the food reaches a safe internal temperature. The FDA recommends:
  •  Steaks and Roasts:  145 degrees F (medium rare), 160 degrees F (medium)
  • Fish:  145 degrees F
  • Pork:  145 degrees F
  • Ground beef: 160 degrees F
  • Egg dishes: 160 degrees F
  • Chicken breasts:  165 degrees F
  • Whole poultry:  165 degrees F
  • Shrimp, lobster, and crabs:  cook until pearly and opaque
  • Clams, oysters, and mussels:  cook until the shells are open

HCAs and PAHs: Two Dangerous Compounds That Can Form

Unfortunately, two types of cancer causing compounds can increase or form in some foods that are grilled or cooked at high heat.

Heterocycline amines (HCAs) increase when meat, especially beef, is cooked with high heat by grilling or pan-frying. HCAs can damage DNA and start the development of cancer.  Most evidence connects them to colon and stomach cancer, but they may be linked to other types of cancer, too.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) increase with grilling because they form in smoke and can get deposited on the outside of your meat.

Five Things You Can Do to Decrease HCAs and PAHs:

  1. Cook or fry at lower temperatures to produce fewer HCAs You can turn the gas down or wait for charcoal’s low-burning embers.
  2. Raise your grilling surface up higher and turn your meat very frequently to reduce charring, which is highly carcinogenic. Grilling fish takes less cooking time and forms fewer HCAs than beef, pork and poultry.
  3. Marinate your meat.  According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, marinating can reduce HCA formation by as much as 92 to 99%. Scientists think that the antioxidants in marinades help block HCA formation.
  4. Add some spices and rubs. Rosemary and turmeric, for example, seem to block up to 40% of HCA formation because of their antioxidant activity. A study by Kansas State University found that rubbing rosemary onto meat before grilling greatly decreased HCA levels.  Basil, mint, sage, and oregano may be effective, too.
  5. Select leaner cuts of meat and trim excess fat to help reduce PAHs. Leaner cuts drip less fat – and dripping fat causes flare-ups and smoke which can deposit PAHs on your food.

How To Keep Grilled Food Safe To Eat

grilled-food-safe-to-eat

Ah!  Warm weather! Picnics and barbecues!  Awesome grilled food!

Whoops!  Picnics, barbecues, and grilling can create the perfect environment for the bacteria that already reside in food to rapidly multiply and become the cause of a foodborne illness.

It’s really important to follow safe food handling rules when you’re cooking perishable foods like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs and Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to get a little lax about following food handling rules when the grill takes center stage.

 Here are some grilling guidelines:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after you handle the food.  Did you pick up the raw burger or the piece of fish or chicken with your fingers to put it on the grill?
  • When you marinate your food, let the food sit in the marinade in the refrigerator — not on the counter — or worse, out in the sun next to the grill.  Don’t use the marinade that the raw meat or poultry sat in on the cooked food. Instead, reserve part of the unused marinade to baste with or to use as a sauce.
  • Get those coals hot. Preheat the coals on your grill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the coals are lightly coated with ash. If you’re using a gas grill, turn on the grill so it has enough time to thoroughly heat up.
  • Use a food thermometer (make sure you have one at home and one to pack for grilling at picnics) to be certain that the food reaches a safe internal temperature. The FDA recommends:
  •  Steaks and Roasts:  145 degrees F (medium rare), 160      degrees F (medium)
  • Fish:  145 degrees F
  • Pork:  145 degrees F
  • Ground beef:  160 degrees F
  • Egg dishes: 160 degrees F
  • Chicken breasts:  165 degrees F
  • Whole poultry:  165 degrees F
  • Shrimp, lobster, and crabs:  cook until pearly and opaque
  • Clams, oysters, and mussels:  cook until the shells are open
  • When the food is cooked, don’t put it on the same platter that you used to carry the raw food out to the grill, or the same tongs or spatula, either – unless they’ve been washed first in hot, soapy water.
  • Reusing without washing can spread bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked or ready-to-eat food. Better yet, bring a clean platter and utensils with you to the grill and remove the ones that the raw food has been on – it’s too easy to mistakenly reuse the raw food ones.
  • When grilled food is “ready” keep it hot until it’s served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals — or the burner if you’re using gas. This will keep it hot but prevent it from overcooking.
  • If you reheat food, make sure it reaches 165°F.
  • Cook only the amount of food that you think people will eat. It’s easy to cook more, but it’s a challenge to keep leftovers at a safe temperature. Throw out any leftovers that haven’t stayed within the safe temperature range.

How To Keep Your Food Safe In The Sun And Heat

picnic-food-safetyIt’s hot outside.  When you open your car door after it’s been sitting in the parking lot you’re hit with a blast of heat that seems hotter than an oven.

The Temperature Rises Quickly Inside A Car

The temperature rises quickly inside a closed car — even when it’s only moderately warm outside.

A study found that at 9AM (in some very hot place!) when the outside temperature was 82 degrees, the temperature inside a closed car was 109 degrees. At 1:30PM, it was 112 degrees outside and 124 degrees inside a closed car.

Cracking the windows helped, but only a little.  At 10AM, with four windows cracked, it was 88 degrees outside but 103 degrees inside the car.  At 2PM at 110 degrees outside it was 123 degrees inside.

None of these are safe conditions for living creatures, and not for keeping fresh and prepared food in your car, either.

What About The Food You’re Taking To A Picnic?

Pity the poor picnic fixins’ you just bought – or the take-out food you just picked up — sitting in extremely hot temperatures in the back of your car.  Boxed food might be fine, but meat, dairy, cut food like fresh fruit, salads, and prepared foods — not so good.

Most bacteria don’t go crazy below 40°F or above 140°F. But the temperature range in between, known as the “Danger Zone,” is where they multiply rapidly and can reach harmful levels. A single bacterium that divides every half hour can result in 17 million offspring in 12 hours!

Raw meat and poultry may contain bacteria that can cause food borne illnesses, and sitting in the temperature danger zone can cause those bad guys to multiply dramatically. Meat and poultry have to be cooked to destroy bacteria and should be kept at temperatures that are either too hot or too cold for these bacteria to grow.

Picnic Food And Temperature Control

To prevent bacteria in food from rapidly multiplying which leads to food borne illness, food has to be kept at certain temperatures to prevent the growth of food borne bacteria. The key: don’t let your picnic food stay in the “Danger Zone” (between 40° F and 140° F) for more than 2 hours, or only for one hour if the outdoor temperature is higher than 90° F.

Perishable food can stay safely unrefrigerated for two hours if the air temperature is less than 90 degrees – and only for one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher.

Keep hot foods hot: above 140°F.  Keep cold foods cold:  below 40°F.

Remember to include preparation, storage, and serving time in determining how long food has been out of the fridge or off the heat.

Transporting, Preparing, And Serving

To prevent food borne diseases, food safety is crucial both when you transport your food and when you prepare and serve it.

Transporting Your Food

  • Think about the type of food you’re buying.  If you have perishable items do what you have to do to keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
  • Think about your route and how many errands you have to do. Stop to buy beer and paper plates before you pick up the food — not afterward while it’s baking in the car.
  • To be on the safe side, keep a cooler, cold packs, or insulated bags in your car for perishable items.  Make sure the cooler hasn’t turned into a portable oven because it’s been sitting in the car for so long.
  • Be certain that raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating other foods and dripping on fruit and veggies that you’ve already washed.
  • Buy a bag of ice if you need to for keeping cold stuff cold and frozen stuff frozen or bring some frozen gel packs with you.

At The Picnic Site

  • Food spoilage and cross-contamination are major issues when preparing and eating food outdoors in warm weather — especially when you’re at a remote site (like a camp or park) without a kitchen.
  • How will you keep things clean – not just the food, but the platters, utensils, and your hands?  Is there a source of potable (drinking) water that you can use for cooking and cleaning? You don’t want to use water that’s not safe to drink to wash your food or utensils.  If there isn’t, bring water or pack clean, wet cloths, moist towelettes, or paper towels for cleaning your hands and surfaces. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of food borne illness.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling food, and don’t use the same platter and utensils for both raw and cooked meat and poultry.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold the entire picnic – keeping food at unsafe temperatures is a major cause of food borne illness. The temperature spikes in direct sunlight so keep coolers in the shade.
  • Food shouldn’t be out of the cooler or off the grill for more than 2 hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
  • Perishable and cooked foods like meat, chicken, and mayonnaise-based salads have to be kept cold, too. Keep cold food in the fridge and don’t stock the cooler until right before you leave home. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car while you’re traveling. (FYI: don’t stuff the refrigerator because cool air has to circulate to keep food safe.)
  • If you have a long trip consider freezing the food and putting it into the cooler frozen and allowing it to defrost (to a cold temperature, not warm) in transit.
  • If you bring hot take-out food like ribs or chicken, it should be eaten within two hours of when it was plucked from the store’s steam table. If you buy it ahead of time, first chill the food in your refrigerator and then before pack it in an insulated cooler.
  • Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another so the perishable foods won’t be repeatedly exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures as people keep opening the cooler for drinks. A full cooler will hold its cold temperature longer than one that’s partly full so pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to maintain a constant cold temperature.
  • Throw out any perishable foods from picnics or barbecues that have been kept out too long or not adequately chilled or heated. “If in doubt, throw it out.”

10 Ways To Save Calories At Summer Parties, Picnics, And Barbecues

  1. sand-castle-graphicBefore you grab some tasty morsel, ask yourself if you really want it.  Are you hungry?  Is it worth the calories?  Odds are, the tempting display of food in front of you is visually seductive – and may smell great, too — but you’re reaching out to eat what’s in front of you for reasons not dictated by your stomach but by your eyes.
  2. Do you really need to stand in front of the picnic table, kitchen table, or barbecue?  The further away from the food you are the less likely you are to eat it. Don’t sit or stand where you can see the food that’s calling your name. Keep your back to it if you can’t keep distant. There’s just so much control you can exercise before “see it = eat it.”
  3. Don’t show up absolutely starving.  How can you resist all the tempting food when your blood sugar is in the basement and your stomach is singing a chorus?
  4. If you know that the barbecued ribs, the blueberry pie, or your cousin’s potato salad is your downfall, acknowledge that you’re going to have it or steer clear.  For most of us, swearing that you’ll only take a taste is a promise that is doomed to fail and you end up with second or third helpings heaped on your plate.
  5. If you’re asked to bring something to a party, picnic, or barbecue, bring food you can eat with abandon – fruit, salad with dressing on the side, maybe berries and angel food cake for dessert (there’s no fat in angel food cake and moderate calories).  Bring something that’s a treat but not over the top.  That way you know you’ll always have some “go to” food.
  6. Really eyeball the food choices so you know what’s available.  Then make a calculated decision about what you‘re going to eat.  Taking some of everything means that you’ll eat some of everything.  Is that what you want to do?
  7. Take the food you’ve decided to eat, sit down, enjoy it without guilt, and be done with it.  No going back for seconds.
  8. If you’re full, stop eating and clear your plate right away.  If it hangs around in front of you, you’ll keep picking at it until there’s nothing left. An exception – a study has found that looking at the “carnage” – the leftover bones from barbecued ribs or even the number of empty beer bottles – serves as a visual reminder of how much you’ve already had to eat or drink.
  9. Give yourself permission to eat – and enjoy — the special dessert or a burger or ribs.  If you don’t, you’ll probably be miserable.  Then when you get home you end up gobbling down everything in sight because you made yourself miserable by not eating the stuff that you wanted in the first place!  But no seconds and no first portions that are the equivalent of firsts, seconds and thirds built into one.
  10. If hanging around the food gets to be too much, go for a walk, a swim, or engage someone in an animated conversation. It’s pretty hard to shove food in your mouth when you’re busy talking.

Thinking About Chowing Down At A Barbecue This Weekend?

Memorial Day Weekend – the “unofficial” start of summer weekends. Hometown parades with floats and kids in baseball uniforms.  Veterans handing out flags.  The lazy, hazy days of summer with lots of soda and popcorn and beer.  Also lots of barbecue and desserts – and lots of seemingly never ending caloric temptation — and bathing suits to get into!

Celebration and Remembrance

Just a bit of a reminder.  It’s wonderful to celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer.  But, there’s a reason for all of the parades and flags. In the states, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service.  First observed on May 30th, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, in 1971 Congress extended it into a three-day holiday weekend.

Parades, Picnics, And Barbecues

Memorial Day is a day of national ceremonies and small town parades, but also of barbecues and picnics. For many of us Memorial Day also signals the start of a whole different set of thoughts:  how to avoid the glut of cheeseburgers and hot dogs; the mayonnaise laden potato and macaroni salad; the plates full of brownies and cookies; the dripping ice cream cones (sprinkles are mandatory); the freshly baked blueberry and peach pies; and the beer, wine, soda, and lemonade to wash everything down.

Gotta Have A Plan To Handle The Food . . .

Or you might never take off the bathing suit cover-up.  So, as you remember the people who gave service to their country, please honor yourself by choosing to eat what’s best for you.  Holidays and celebrations present food challenges.  A one-day splurge is a blip that doesn’t account for much.  A one-day splurge that opens the floodgate to mindless eating all summer long is something else.

General Tips For Mindful Eating All Summer Long

  • Before you grab some tasty morsel, ask yourself if you’re really hungry.  Odds are, with a tempting display of food in front of you, you may not be hungry but you just want to eat what’s in front of you for reasons not dictated by your stomach.
  • A good question to ask yourself is:  do I really need to stand in front of the picnic table, kitchen table, or barbecue?  The further away from the food you are the less likely you are to eat it.
  • If you know that the barbecued ribs, the blueberry pie, or your cousin’s potato salad is your downfall, either build it into your food for the day or steer clear.  For most of us swearing that you’ll only take a taste is a promise doomed to fail.
  • If you’re asked to bring something to a party, picnic, or barbecue, bring food you can eat with abandon – fruit, salad with dressing on the side, berries and angel food cake for dessert (no fat in angel food cake).  That way you know you’ll always have some “go to” food.
  • Don’t show up absolutely starving.  How can you resist when your blood sugar is in the basement and your stomach is singing a chorus?
  • Really eyeball the food choices so you know what’s available.  Then make a calculated decision about what you are going to eat.
  • Take the food you have decided to eat, sit down, enjoy it without guilt, and be done with it.  No going back for seconds.
  • If you’re full, stop eating and clear your plate right away.  If it hangs around in front of you, inevitably you’ll keep picking at it.
  • Give yourself permission to eat – and enjoy — the special dessert or a burger or ribs.  If you don’t, you’ll probably be miserable and there’s some chance that you’ll get home and gobble down everything in sight – because you made yourself miserable by not eating the good stuff in the first place!  Eat what you want and enjoy it (no seconds and no first portions that are the equivalent of firsts, seconds and thirds built into one).
  • If hanging around the food gets to be too much, go for a walk, a swim, or engage someone in an animated conversation.    It’s pretty hard to shove food into you mouth when you’re talking away.