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Git-R-Done: Don’t Get Burnt When It Comes to Healthy Grilling This Summerl

July 2, 2008

By Katie Wilson, The Times West Virginian, Fairmont

Jul. 2–FAIRMONT — Let’s face it. Foodborne illness is not fun.

Few things can destroy a great family holiday cookout like foodborne illness. Even if everything is going well, the sparklers are sparking, the pool is packed and everyone’s getting along and having a great time, a good old-fashioned outbreak of foodborne illness can ruin the party.

According to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, more than 250 foodborne illnesses have been identified. An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States. The bulk of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two. Some cases are more serious, and the CDC estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases each year. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune system function, and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of an organism.

To keep salmonella from being the uninvited guest at your holiday cookout, there are a few things you can do.

First, wash your hands. After you’ve flattened the raw hamburger into patties, wash your hands immediately so you don’t cross-contaminate anything else. Also, wash your hands before you touch the raw meat. Just because your hands look clean doesn’t mean they are.

Lloyd White, director of the Marion County Health Department, said safe grilling procedures begin at the supermarket. You’re buying fresh meat that is kept cold, right? So keep it cold. Don’t buy a boatload of burgers and steaks and then keep them in a hot car while you get the oil changed. It’s a good way for bacteria to grow. Take the meat straight home. If you’ve got a long trip from the store to your refrigerator, keep the meat in a cooler with some ice, White said.

“Try to minimize the time it takes to get the meat from the fridge to the grill,” White said. “Try to keep it at 41 degrees or below prior to preparing it for the grill.”

While you’re minimizing time, try to trim the time your meat sits between coming off the grill and going into your mouth.

“Typically, food consumed within four hours of cooking is safe,” White said. “Any more than that and you increase the risk of bacterial contamination.”

If you’re throwing a barbecue at home and you want to keep the food hot longer, put it in an oven or some other type of holding appliance. The food needs to be held at temperatures of 135 degrees or above, White said.

When you’re grilling your meat, make sure it’s actually done. Even if your Uncle Fred likes his steak to moo, it may not be safe. White said the best way to make sure your meat is done is to check the temperature with a thermometer. Hamburgers, for instance, are fully cooked when their internal temperature reaches 155 degrees for 15 seconds or more.

If you’re going the thermometer route, you should have one for each type of meat to prevent cross-contamination, White said.

If checking the temperature is a bit much for you, White said the time-tested way of checking done-ness is sometimes the best. Take a spatula and press down on your burger, he said. If the juices run clear, it’s probably done. If you’re still not sure, cut one open and check for pink.

E-mail Katie Wilson at kwilson@timeswv.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Times West Virginian, Fairmont

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