Grill safely over Labor Day

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  8/26/2008 6:52:33 PM

News You Can Use Release Distributed 08/26/08

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, with outdoor grilling a popular way to celebrate the occasion. Cookouts require extra care to prevent foodborne illness, and LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames offers several extra-care steps.

Food preparation

Always wash hands before and after working with raw meat, poultry or seafood. Wash work surfaces and cutting boards thoroughly with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food for grilling. To sanitize work surfaces, use a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Keep perishable products at a refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees or lower until grilling time. If you are using frozen foods, thaw them in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. You can microwave-defrost the food if it will be placed on the grill immediately.

Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Do not use the leftover marinade as a sauce on cooked meat. The marinade may contain bacteria from the raw meat that could contaminate the cooked meat. Make a separate batch of marinade to use as a sauce.

When picnicking away from home, keep meat and poultry cold by storing it in a cooler with ice. Do not keep other foods in the same cooler with raw meat and poultry. The meat juices may contaminate the other foods and the ice.

As with cutting boards, wash utensils and platters that held raw meat with hot, soapy water before using them again to serve the cooked food. Although adequate cooking kills bacteria, unwashed utensils can recontaminate cooked foods.

To be safe, use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Ground beef burgers should reach 160 degrees and ground poultry should reach 165 degrees. Cook a whole chicken to 165 degrees. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer.

Cook beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops to 145 degrees. All cuts of pork should reach 160 degrees. When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill them to 165 degrees or until steaming hot.

Refrigerate all leftovers immediately at 40 degrees or below. Discard any foods left out more than two hours (one hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees).

Grilling, broiling and frying at high temperatures can produce chemicals called heterocyclic amines, which are thought to cause cancer. At high temperatures, amino acids in the meat proteins react with creatine to form these chemicals. Cancer-causing substances also may be produced by smoke from fat dripping on the grill. Meat roasted or baked in the oven may contain some heterocyclic amines, depending on the temperature, but usually much less than in grilled, fried or broiled meat.


Reames warns against letting foods become too heavily smoked or charred. She advises choosing leaner meats to prevent smoke and flare-ups. Cook smaller pieces that cook more quickly and at lower temperatures.

To reduce grilling time, you can precook many foods – including poultry and ribs – by boiling them or cooking them in the microwave before grilling. Microwaving for just two minutes may decrease heterocyclic amines by 90 percent, according research reported in the Harvard HEALTHbeat newsletter.

“If you do precook in the microwave, be sure to grill the meats as soon as you remove them from the microwave to prevent foodborne illness,” Reames stresses.

Turn the pieces of meat often to keep each side from absorbing or losing too much heat.

Avoid marinades or basting sauces that contain excessive fat. To protect some foods – especially fish and vegetables – from smoke while grilling, wrap them in foil. Cover the grill with aluminum foil. Punch holes between the grids to let the juices drip out.

If dripping fat causes heavy smoke, move the food to another section of the grill, rotate the grill or reduce the heat.

Careful grilling can prevent excessive smoke and charring that may be unhealthy. Reames’ advice is to control the fire, cook the meat until it is done without charring it, remove any charred or burned material from the food's surface and do not eat the charred parts.

For additional information about food safety, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:
Contact: Beth Reames at (225) 578-3929 or Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or

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