News & Events

Barbecue and summer food safety

Jeanine Drake, R.D.

Most people look forward to a summer picnic or barbecue. Unfortunately the combination of transporting and/or cooking food outside offers many possibilities for contracting a food-related illness. To prevent your family from being one of the estimated 6 million cases of food poisoning each year in the U.S., here are some tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling food. Remember to wash all work surfaces and utensils also.
  • The danger zone where bacteria multiplies the fastest is between 41 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep hot food above 140 degrees and cold food below 41 degrees.
  • After shopping, quickly freeze or refrigerate all perishable foods.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods. Be sure to clean them after each use. They also need to be sanitized with a solution of two to three teaspoons of household bleach in one quart of warm water, then rinsed with plain, hot water.
  • Perishable foods left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours (or one hour in temperatures warmer than 85 degrees) are not safe and should be discarded. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • When refrigerating leftovers, use a shallow container. This allows the food to cool quickly and minimizes the likelihood that bacteria will grow.

The following are suggestions to keep your grilled foods healthy and safe:

  • Clean the grilling surface thoroughly before cooking. Before placing food on the grill, heat the grill to kill bacteria.
  • If you're using charcoal, let the excess starter fluid burn off before putting food on the grill. Coals should be grayish-white in color.
  • Defrost meat before grilling. The outside of frozen meat chars while the interior remains cold. Thaw frozen meat, fish and poultry in the refrigerator, never on the counter.
  • Pre-cook foods such as poultry or ribs by microwave or boiling them. Then use the grill briefly for that special "outdoors" flavor.
  • Don't let juices from uncooked meats come in contact with ready-to-eat foods. For example, when removing food from the grill, don't put it on the same plate that held raw meat.
  • Avoid fire flare-ups by using lean meats and trimming away visible fat, and raising the rack to the highest position away from the heat.
  • Marinades are one way to enhance flavors, tenderize, and keep foods moist while grilling. Mixtures of wine, vinegar, soy sauce or lemon juice are popular marinades.  Remember, if you plan to use the marinade later as a table sauce, it must be boiled for at least three minutes to eliminate bacteria.
  • Cook meats until they are no longer pink on the inside. Turn meat at least once during grilling to help cook it evenly throughout.
  • Cook fish in foil packets to retain natural flavors and protect it from smoke and fire.

Jeanine Drake, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian and Nutrition Services director at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit