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Respect the Grill Flames

A family dinner of marinated chicken and grilled vegetables. Photo by Christopher Leonard.

A family dinner of marinated chicken and grilled vegetables. Photo by Christopher Leonard.

With Independence Day just around the corner, families across the nation are making preparations to honor the day as the grill chef, king of Castle Suburbia, lord of the living room, master of the flames, marches forth.

With a meaty feast to honor the day, the Fourth of July has become almost as much a celebration of grilling greatness as it is a celebration of the nation’s independence. However, all that glitters isn’t gold and an infection of Salmonellosis can quickly knock the grill king off his throne and onto another.

Fittingly, the Fourth of July sits in the middle of grilling season. The amber flames roaring up between the grill grates can easily give the false impression of bringing death to all bacteria. However, don’t be misled. Preparing burgers on the grill is a quest that must be tackled safely. Taking the four oaths of food safety (clean, separate, cook and chill) will ensure a feast free from visits to the porcelain throne, or worse, a trip to the emergency room.

The battle against foodborne illness begins on the way home from the store. Separating raw meat products from ready-to-eat products on the journey home is an essential step in preventing cross-contamination. Cooking hamburgers to 160 degrees will safely kill Salmonella and dangerous E. coli bacteria, but it does no good if you contaminated a salad with raw meat juice. And the specter of Salmonella isn’t constrained to poultry. No, the risk from this bug reaches to beef, pork and other meats as well as poultry.

Ever hear the phrase “clean as you cook?” It’s sage advice considering cross contamination can ruin nearly any dish. Cutting boards, cabinet handles, countertops, basically anything you may touch with your dirty, meaty hands can potentially transmit pathogens.

A recent FSIS-sponsored study asked 80 consumers to prepare a meal including a fruit salad and meat dish. The meat provided was inoculated with L. casei, a bacterium found in yogurt, to test average food safety preparation. Half of the group heard food safety messages and half did not. Despite this, 90 percent of the fruit salads were contaminated with the target bacteria. Kitchen towels were a major source of contamination, but the sink, refrigerator, oven and trash cabinet handles were also contaminated, just waiting to infect something else. Check back soon for more information on this study’s findings.

If the grill king’s subjects use proper techniques (see for tips), there is still the matter of cooking the meat. Despite the common advice of cooking to color or checking juices, the ONLY way of ensuring doneness is with a food thermometer. Nothing else, short of dragon fire will do.

Finally, keep cool by keeping food cool. Don’t leave food out in the hot summer air without a way to chill it. Again, is a good source for tips on what foods can stay out and for how long.

Stick to these four oaths of food safety and the grill king and his guests will enjoy the feast to honor the day. Make it a safe one.

One Response to “Respect the Grill Flames”

  1. hadleyrille says:

    This is great, but can you add a link to the recommended temperature for meat safety? What is it?

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