Experts Offer Tips for Safer, Healthier Grilling

Are you planning a Fourth of July barbecue? Grilling is an American tradition. And as the pandemic continues, reports the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more people than ever are firing up the grill, because it’s safe and outdoors.

Before you put on your chef’s apron and pick up the tongs, check out these tips from leading health and safety experts.

Avoid Burns and Fires

The NFPA reports that more than 10,000 home fires were started by grills last year, and almost 20,000 people went to the ER for treatment of grill-related burns and other injuries. Of note: Gas grills are responsible for even more fires than the charcoal type. The month with the most grill fires? July! The NFPA offers some safety tips:

  • Barbecue grills, both gas and charcoal, should be used only outdoors.
  • Don’t position the grill under eaves of the house or overhanging branches.
  • If the grill is used on a deck or porch, keep it away from railings.
  • Never add more charcoal lighter fluid once the fire is lighted.
  • Test gas grills for leaks.
  • Remove grease and fat buildup from the grates and trays.
  • Never leave the grill unattended, and keep children and pets away.
  • Always be sure your gas grill is open before lighting it.

Avoid an Unwanted Guest at Your Barbecue

Ants, yellowjackets and mosquitoes can spoil an outdoor feast, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds us that the most dangerous invaders are the bacteria that cause food poisoning. “Expert grillers will want to practice proper food safety habits anywhere food is prepared, not just in the kitchen,” they remind us. “It’s important to apply the same home food safety techniques to help keep you and your guests safe from foodborne illness”:

  • Clean the grill, all utensils and containers with hot, soapy water before using.
  • Wash your hands before, during and after handling foods outdoors.
  • Keep raw meats at a safe temperature before putting them on the grill, and refrigerate leftovers promptly.
  • Use a food thermometer to be sure meats are cooked to the recommended temperature.
  • Use separate cutting boards, knives and plates for raw and cooked meats and poultry.

For a Healthier Grilling Menu

An occasional charred burger won’t hurt us—but if we often eat grilled foods, we should give some serious thought to what we’re eating and how we’re cooking it. The American Institute for Cancer Research offers these tips:

  • Grilling beef, chicken and any other meat can create cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines, especially when the meat is charred. To reduce these harmful substances, use a lower flame. Cut off visible fat that might cause flare-ups. Discard charred portions of the meat.
  • Marinate meat. Marinades reduce the formation of the harmful substances that form during grilling.
  • Before grilling, precook meats halfway or more in the microwave, oven or stove top to reduce the time they sit on the grill.
  • Heavy consumption of red and processed meats, no matter how they are cooked, has been linked with heart disease and certain forms of cancer. Mix up your menu with colorful grilled veggies and fruits, such as asparagus, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, corn on the cob, apples and peaches.

Check Your Grill Brush

American Academy of Otolaryngology experts report that some people have suffered cuts in their mouths and even gastrointestinal injuries when small metal grill-cleaning brush bristles detach from the brush, adhere to the grill surface, and become embedded in food. To avoid this:

  • Inspect the brush regularly and discard if it shows signs of wear.
  • After brushing the grill, use a wet paper towel to clean the grates.
  • Inspect and wipe down the grill before using it again.
  • If you experience abdominal pain after eating grilled foods, be sure to mention it if you seek medical help.

Source: IlluminAge with information from the National Fire Protection Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Academy of Otolaryngology

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about food safety and nutrition.