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Hot and healthy off the grill

More people cook outdoors in the summer than at any other time of the year -- and outdoor grilling doesn't mean just hamburgers and franks any more. For safety and good health, it's important to make sure the recipes and the grilling methods you use discourage the growth of microbes and the production of cancer-causing components.

Simple cooking tips

Use these simple guidelines for a safe outdoor meal, whether it's marinated shish kabobs, barbecued chicken or your favorite grilled franks.

  • Select meats for grilling that are low in fat, and trim off excess fat before cooking. Research shows that the higher the level of fat in meats, the greater the production of carcinogens during charcoal broiling.
  • Because unwashed hands are a prime source of foodborne illness, it's important to thoroughly wash your hands before handling foods. A vigorous, 20-second lather with warm, soapy water, followed by rinsing and drying with a paper towel, is the ideal method.

When picnicking away from home with no handwashing facilities nearby, pack disposable wipes and hand sanitizers as an alternative method of cleaning hands.

  • Marinate protein foods such as meat and poultry in a glass dish in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Once the meat has been put on the grill, it's best to discard any leftover marinade, as it will be contaminated with any bacteria contained on the raw product. If you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce or dip, save it out before starting the marinating process.
  • Precooking can save time at the grill site and reduce charring. However, for safety's sake, make sure foods go directly from the microwave or oven to the grill. Foods also may be completely cooked, then quickly cooled for reheating on the grill later.
  • Take to the grill site only the quantity of food that you will cook and eat. Foods should not sit in warm temperatures for more than two hours. When it's over 90 degrees F outside, the time limit should be an hour or less.
  • For safety and quality, make sure the coals are ready before adding food to the grill. Coals should show a light coating of ash for optimal heat. Avoid temperatures that are extremely hot as these promote the formation of carcinogenic compounds on the surface of the meat.
  • Use a wire brush to scrape off any charred pieces left on the grill before adding the meat or vegetable to be cooked. The charred pieces can harbor bacteria as well as potential carcinogens.
  • Use a meat thermometer or T-stick to assure that meat and poultry are cooked to safe temperatures. Hamburgers and other ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Chicken parts should be cooked to 170 degrees F.
  • Discourage flare-ups, since burning juice or fat can produce harmful smoke. If you're getting a lot of smoke from dripping fat, move the food to another section of the grill, rotate the grill, or reduce the heat to help lower the smoke level.

If you have a gas or electric grill, lower the temperature setting. For conventional grills, use a squirt bottle of water to dampen the coals.

  • When possible, use a drip pan to catch dripping fat. Metal drip pans are available wherever outdoor cooking equipment is sold, or you can make your own from heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure that the drip pan does not rest on burning coals. With gas or electric grills, follow the manufacturer's instructions on the use and placement of drip pans.
  • Serve food from the grill on a clean platter, not the one you used to take the food to the grill.
  • After grilling, serve immediately to keep hot foods hot.
  • Clean the grill after each use.
  • Refrigerate any leftovers promptly. If this is not possible and the perishable foods will sit at warm temperatures longer than two hours, the safest motto is "when in doubt, throw it out."
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