Grill smart: Stay safe at summer barbecues


With summer in full swing, July is primetime for firing up the grill. Keep your barbecue parties safe with these six tips:

  1. Choose your location wisely

Both gas and charcoal grills should only be used outside. Keep the grill away from your house, deck rails and overhanging trees. Maintain a 3-foot safe zone around the grill (try drawing the boundary line with sidewalk chalk to keep children from getting too close).

  1. Clean it up

Clean your grill each time you use it to remove grease and fats that could start a fire. After grilling, allow spent coals to cool before discarding them in a metal can with a lid. If using propane, make sure the flow of gas is turned off after you’re done.

  1. Keep a watchful eye

Never leave a grill unattended. Make sure pets and children steer clear of the grill, and keep all matches and lighters away from children. In addition, teach children to report any matches or lighters they might find to an adult immediately.

  1. Plan for propane

If you use a propane grill, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Make sure the propane tank hose is connected tightly and not leaking.
  • If you smell gas while grilling, turn off the tank and burners immediately. Have the grill serviced before using it again.
  • If the gas smell continues after the grill is turned off, move away from the area and call the fire department.
  1. Take care with charcoal

If you use charcoal to grill, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Use charcoal chimney starters, electric starters or starter fluid designed for charcoal to fire up your grill. Never use other flammable liquids.
  • Keep starter fluid out of reach of children and away from any heat sources.
  1. Cook meats safely

Grilled meats may be delicious, but they might be cause for concern if not cooked properly. You should use a food thermometer to ensure that food is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. The Department of Agriculture recommends cooking ground meats to at least 160 degrees, chicken to 165 degrees and steak and pork to 145 degrees.

Cooking meats at high temperatures — such as on a grill or barbecue — can lead to the formation of compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Research has found that exposure to these compounds might cause some types of cancers.

There are no federal guidelines for limiting exposure to HCAs and PAHs, but the National Cancer Institute suggests steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  • Avoid exposing meat directly to open flames or hot metal surfaces, and avoid prolonged cooking times at high temperatures.
  • Use a microwave to pre-cook meats and then finish them on the grill.
  • Flip the meat often as it cooks rather than leaving it on the grill surface without turning it.
  • Remove charred portions of meat before eating.

To learn more about how diet affects cancer risk, take our Nutrition and Cancer Quiz.

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