Light Up the Grill…Safely

Summer’s here and the time is right…for enjoying food cooked on the grill. While we often think of cooking burgers and hot dogs on the grill, there are a number of other foods you can successfully grill: seafood, fruits and vegetables, pizza, meats, and even breads. No matter what your taste buds are craving off the grill, here are some guidelines for keeping it safe this grilling season:

There are a number of things to be aware of when you’re preparing your food for grilling. Marinating meat, vegetables and fruits is a great way to add some delicious flavor; just be sure to marinate safely. Marinate your foods in the refrigerator — never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. And never reuse marinade.

If you decide to precook the food to be grilled, be sure to get it on the grill immediately after partial cooking. Leaving time between pre-boiling or baking and putting the food on the grill opens the door to bacteria. Continue the cooking process by putting the food on the grill as quickly as possible.

Be sure to cook your food thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer to see if your meat is completely cooked. Hold the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. The following temperatures should be evident for at least 15 seconds. Steaks, roasts and fish should be done to 145 degrees; pork and ground beef to 160 degrees; and chicken breast and whole poultry to 165 degrees.

If you’re cooking multiple things on the grill and some food is ready before the rest, be sure to keep that food hot until serving. A warm oven at 200 degrees works nicely for this purpose. Although it may be easy to reach for the same ones, never reuse a plate or utensils that previously touched raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

For those cooking on a gas grill, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions and check your grill’s hoses regularly for cracks or breaks and your grill for gas leaks. Keep lighted cigarettes, matches, or open flames away from a leaking grill and keep liquid propane gas containers upright. Do not store any spare gas container under or near the grill or indoors. Be sure never to store or use flammable liquids such as gasoline near the grill.

Precautions are also necessary when using a charcoal grill. Charcoal produces carbon monoxide when it is burned. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can accumulate to toxic levels in closed environments. You can become sick or even die if exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.

That being said, never burn charcoal inside of homes, vehicles, tents, or campers, even if ventilation is available. Be aware that charcoal produces carbon monoxide fumes until completely extinguished. Do not store your grill indoors with freshly-used coals.

No matter what type of grill you’re using, make sure it’s being used at least 10 feet away from your house or any building to avoid a potential fire. And remember a clean grill is a safe grill. Avoid flare ups by keeping the grill clean inside and out. Excess grease can catch fire and cause you to not only lose your meal, but your property as well.

So, go ahead and enjoy grilling nature’s bounty this summer. Looking for some recipe ideas? Join me or SVMC Chef Laura LaCroix for fun grilling classes this July. To register or find out more, visit svhealthcare.org/events/.

Visit our facebook page for some more grilling safety tips.

Chris Dargie is a chef at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (svhealthcare.org). “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.