The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 8, 2013

Grill safely this summer

By Jessica Nickels, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

— It’s grilling season! Do you know how to safely grill food for your friends and family?

Food poisoning can ruin any party. Warmer temperatures mean that more people are grilling out. Proper food safety has many steps, from buying the food to disposing of leftovers. For a successful meal, follow these helpful tips to ensure that your guests go home healthy.

Safely grilled food begins with safe grocery shopping. When buying food for the grill, remember these safety tips to buy meats last so they are out of refrigeration for the shortest period of time. It is also important to place meats in a plastic grocery bag away from other foods so juice does not drip on other items. If you live several miles from the grocery store, transport food home in a cooler to keep it cold. Freeze meat immediately if it will not be used within one or two days.

Before firing up the grill, food must be properly prepared so it can be safely cooked. Remember to thaw meats completely before grilling so they will cook more evenly. Never thaw meat on the counter — thaw in the refrigerator or in a sink of cool water. If using a marinade, reserve some for basting or flavoring instead of reusing the sauce that has been in contact with the raw meat. If a marinade must be reused, boil it first to kill any bacteria. Wash vegetables to be grilled thoroughly before cooking. If grilling at home, keep meats refrigerated until time to grill. If food needs to be transported to a park or campsite, store it in a cooler in the shade. Do not open the cooler frequently and do not store other foods or drinks in the same cooler. Wash hands thoroughly before handling food or placing it on the grill.

While grilling, it is vital to follow certain precautions to ensure food safety: Grilling is more challenging than lighting a fire. Meat should reach a healthy internal temperature to be thoroughly cooked: poultry should reach 180 degrees, burgers 160 degrees, pork 160 degrees, and steaks 145 degrees for medium-rare cuts and 160 degrees for medium cuts. Browning and char is not an accurate indicator of thorough cooking; use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. If grilling meat and vegetables on the same surface, use separate utensils to handle each type of food and do not allow meat drippings to fall onto vegetables. Use clean utensils and platters when handling food; never place cooked meat on the same plate that the raw meat was once on. Keep meat hot until served by moving it away from the fire but keeping it on the heated grill.

Grilling safety precautions should not end when the meal is over. Leftovers need to be treated carefully to ensure they are still safe. Try to gauge portions properly to avoid leftovers if possible. Store leftovers in the cooler immediately and refrigerate as soon as possible. Food left out for more than two hours should be discarded. Leftovers must be reheated to safe internal temperatures before being eaten.

Remember, the majority of food bacteria grows between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and keeping food at proper hot or cold temperatures is critical for food safety. From the grocery store to the leftover storage container, following proper grilling safety tips can help make summer barbeques a tasty tradition without fear of accidents or illnesses.

Nickels, MS, RD/LD, is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Garfield County.