Food poisoning peaks in the summer months when warmer temperatures cause foodborne germs to flourish. Barbecues and outdoor eating offer lots of opportunities for bacteria to thrive. Don’t let food poisoning spoil your barbecue. Follow these simple steps for planning a healthy and safe barbecue.
Think beyond traditional favorites.
Most people think ribs are synonymous with barbecue season, but pork tenderloin is one of the grill’s best-kept secrets. Pork tenderloin requires less cooking time than ribs and is the leanest cut of pork with less than 3 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving, making it as lean as skinless chicken breast.
Grilling turkey burgers instead of beef is another great way to cut fat and reduce calories. Ground turkey breast can be as lean as 99-percent fat-free.
Brighten and lighten up summertime meals with a grilled vegetable platter. Marinade a variety of vegetables such as asparagus, peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions, and zucchini for 15 minutes, then place on a hot grill until they are fork-tender. Herbs, spices, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard make great ingredients for marinades.
Put a new twist on traditional fruit salad by grilling fruit kebabs. Thread chunks of pineapple, watermelon, bananas, and strawberries on skewers. Brush fruit with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, and canola oil. Then place skewers on a medium to high heat grill until fruit is caramelized.
Practice food safety before, during, and after your barbecue.
Clean. Wash your hands with soap before and after handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Wash work surfaces, utensils, and the grill before and after cooking.
Separate. When shopping, pick up meat, poultry, and seafood last, right before checkout. Separate them from other food in your shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator. To guard against cross-contamination, put packages of raw meat and poultry into individual plastic bags. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs unless the plate has been washed in hot, soapy water.
Chill. Refrigerate food promptly. Keep meat, poultry, and seafood refrigerated until ready to grill. When transporting, keep in an insulated cooler below 40°F. Divide leftovers into small portions and place in covered, shallow containers. Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood within 2 hours of cooking. If the temperature is above 90°F, refrigerate within 1 hour.
Check your grill and tools. Use a moist cloth or paper towel to clean the grill surface before cooking. If you use a wire bristle brush, thoroughly inspect the grill’s surface before cooking. Wire bristles from grill cleaning brushes may dislodge and stick into food on the grill.
Cook. Use a food thermometer to ensure meat is cooked hot enough to kill harmful germs. Hot food should be kept hot, at or above 140°F. When smoking, keep temperatures inside the smoker at 225°F to 300°F to keep meat at a safe temperature while it cooks. Using a thermometer is the only safe way to determine the doneness of cooked foods.
Don’t cross-contaminate. Throw out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat juices, which can spread germs to cooked foods. Use clean utensils and a clean plate to remove cooked meat from the grill.
Food safety is key to keeping your barbecue ‘lit’ and your friends and family safe during grilling season.
An award-winning registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of the Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World; The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes.