It’s almost Labor Day, and that means many Americans will be barbecuing to celebrate with their friends and family. With the warm temperatures and exposure to the outdoors, it’s essential to keep food safety in mind. Follow these 12 grilling safety tips for easy food handling and preparation.
When shopping for the ingredients for your barbecue, make sure you pick up any meat, poultry, and seafood right before checking out. This will ensure the food stays cool while you transport it home. As an extra precaution, bring ice or an insulated cooler to keep temperatures low while transporting. Always refrigerate perishable foods within two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
Keep your meat separate from all ready-to-eat foods—from the minute you put it in your grocery cart! To reduce the risks of cross-contamination, put raw meat in individual plastic bags. This will ensure juices don’t drip onto other foods. If using cooler, separate perishable food from beverages.
After putting raw items on the grill, grab a clean plate for when the items are done. The tongs you used to place raw meat on the grill could be contaminated with harmful bacteria, which could spread to the fully cooked items taken off the grill if you use the same tongs. So, make sure to also have clean utensils! If any of your marinades or sauces touch raw meat juices, it’s best to throw them out and buy a new bottle.
Keep raw meats refrigerated until immediately before they will be placed on the grill. Freeze poultry and ground beef if it won’t be used in the next 1-2 days and any other meats within 4-5 days of purchase.
If you need to bring the raw meat to a place without a fridge, use a cooler situated in the shade. The food will stay coldest in well-sealed packages at the bottom of the cooler. Don’t open the lid too often, as it will let the cold air out.
If the meat is frozen, completely thaw it before grilling it. This ensures that the food is cooked evenly and is less susceptible to harmful germs. The safest way to thaw meat is by refrigerating it. Do not under any circumstances thaw food on the counter. If you don’t have time to thaw it safely in the fridge, you can microwave it to defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.
Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter or outdoors. Don’t reuse the marinade that touched raw meat unless you boil it to 165˚F to destroy any bacteria. Most recipes suggest marinating meat for 6 to 24 hours, but it’s safe to keep food in a marinade for up to 48 hours. After that, you may find that the acids in the marinade will start breaking down the protein.
Don’t have time to make a marinade? The BarbaCuban 90 Miles to Mojo Marinade is a versatile mojo marinade that can be used with most meats!
Wash your hands and wrists with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before, during, and after handling raw meat. Sanitize any work surfaces, utensils, and grills before and after cooking. If you’re grilling in an area that doesn’t have a source of clean water, make sure you bring your own.
Always wash fruits and vegetables while prepping and gently scrub firmer items with a vegetable brush to remove any debris. Avoid washing or rinsing raw meat, as it greatly increases the risk of cross-contamination.
Propane and charcoal grills should only be used outside, at least 10 feet away from any building, to avoid a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Before cooking, check your grill for loose wire bristles and the propane tank hose for leaks. Keep children and pets away from the grill and never leave it unattended.
Precooking your meat in a microwave, stove, or oven will greatly cut down on grilling time. You can partially cook the meat ahead of time only if it goes immediately on the grill. Bacteria are easily reproduced in partially-cooked meats. Make sure to preheat your grill before you put food on it. Heat the coals on a charcoal grill for at least 20-30 minutes and keep smoker temperatures between 225°F and 300°F.
The most essential of these grilling safety tips is to cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure the correct temperature has been reached and harmful bacteria have been destroyed. Minimum internal food temperatures are:
- 145°F: Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal, and fish.
- 160°F: Hamburgers and other ground beef.
- 165°F: Poultry and pre-cooked meats.
Food needs to stay 140ºF or warmer until it’s served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them on the side of the grill rack, in a 200ºF oven, or in a warming tray.
Food should never sit out for more than one hour in hot weather. Refrigerate leftovers in covered, shallow containers and discard any food left out for more than two hours.
When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165°F.
We hope you’ll follow these grilling safety tips to keep your family and friends safe this Labor Day weekend!