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Father, grandfather and son grilling together at a garden bbq party. Three generations of men at summer family garden party.
July 2, 2024

Take Precautions for Safe and Healthy Grilling

ThedaCare Physician Offers Tips to Ensure a Safe Summer Activity

As friends gather, enjoying the aroma of a barbecue, it means summer has finally arrived. 

“It’s a pleasure to embrace a cold beverage and a hot plate of food in your backyard, and we know how much Wisconsinites love to grill,” said Dr. Andrew Dunn, a Family Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Neenah. “And following precautions and making balanced food choices can help ensure this beloved pastime stays healthy and safe for everyone.”

With so much to love and only a short window of time to enjoy it, it’s natural to want to light up the grill as often as possible. Dr. Dunn offers the following tips to help ensure a safe and healthy barbeque:

Watch processed meat intake. Common types of grilled processed meat include hot dogs, bratwurst and other types of sausages. Consuming processed meat ups the risk for developing colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. If you enjoy processed meat, moderation is key.

Keep charring in check. Grilling meat at high temperatures can potentially create cancer-causing chemicals. Follow these steps to reduce risk.

  • Lightly oil grill grates to keep charred bits from sticking to food.
  • Marinate meat in a citrus-based or other acidic marinade. The antioxidants can help offset the chemical effects of the carcinogens.
  • Precook meats in the microwave or oven for two to five minutes and finish them on the grill.
  • Cook food indirectly or at a lower temperature.
  • If cooking at a high temperature, flip meat frequently.
  • Scrub grill grates after each use to prevent buildup of harmful chemicals.

Balance your plate. Make veggies the star and have lean meats play a supporting role. Vegetables cook quickly on the grill, and grilling brings out their natural sweetness. Brush veggies with a healthy oil and cook them directly on the grill, or prepare them in a lightly oiled grill basket. You can also prepare kebabs with vegetables and meat or fish. If you’re craving something sweet, grilled fruit makes a delightful and healthy dessert. Pineapple, apples, stone fruits, pears, and cantaloupe are great options to try.

Focus on food safety. Don’t let foodborne illness ruin your festivities. Stick to these steps to sidestep sickness:

  • Use plenty of plates and utensils. Don’t use the same plate for raw and cooked meat.
  • If you plan to pour marinade on meat after cooking, set a portion aside before placing raw meat in the mixture.
  • Cook food thoroughly. Use a digital meat thermometer to ensure food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature. For beef and pork, that’s 145 degrees. Hamburgers should reach at least 160 degrees. All poultry should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Remember the adage, “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” Hot foods should stay above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and cold foods should stay below 40 degrees. When foods remain between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, bacteria can grow rapidly to levels that can cause sickness, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“With grilling, food cooks faster on the outside,” Dr. Dunn said. “It may look like something is done, but you don’t really know until you take that internal temperature.

Banish burns and flame out fires. Avoid injuries and accidents with these safety steps:

  • Use a grill outside and away from your home. If the weather is bad, it may be tempting to cook in your garage or under an overhang. However, grills are designed for use in areas with plenty of ventilation, which you may not have in the garage. Also, if you’re cooking too close to the house or other objects, fire may spread to nearby combustible materials.
  • Never leave the grill unattended while in use. Grills use high heat and open flames to cook food. When left unattended, they can become a safety hazard. If you can’t stay with your grill, ask another adult to keep an eye on it. Having a person standing next to a grill also serves as a reminder that it’s hot and people need to keep their distance.
  • Always clean your grill when finished. Grease builds up on grill plates and collects inside the grease tray when grilling. If not cleaned regularly, the buildup can act as another fuel and catch on fire. Empty the grease tray to prevent grease from building up.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. To prevent clothing from catching on fire, don’t wear long, loose sleeves or let garments dangle over a grill’s open flame.

One final tip: When cleaning grill grates, exercise caution when using wire-bristle grill brushes. The bristles can break off and stick to food. Ingesting a bristle can injure the mouth, throat, and tonsils. It can also lead to bowel obstructions and abdominal perforations. 

A nylon brush offers a safer grill-cleaning alternative. You can also use balled-up aluminum foil or even half an onion.

“We want people to take part in the joy of grilling,” Dr. Dunn said. “Just remember to make mindful and safe choices when it comes to selecting and preparing food.”

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