Don’t get ill from your grill

Summer is barbecue season – but it’s also the peak season for food-borne illnesses. Here’s how to avoid food poisoning from your grill.

Barbecuing is a great summer tradition – but if not done properly, it can make you sick.

Health Canada estimates there are between 11 million and 13 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year, and the risk of food-born illnesses increases dramatically during the summer months. Hot, humid weather creates perfect conditions for bacteria such as Salmonella and E.coli to flourish. Add to this the difficulty of refrigerating foods or washing your hands while picnicking or camping, and it’s not hard to understand why food poisoning is a particular risk during barbecue season.

Here are some ways to avoid ills from the grill.

Keep it clean
• Handwashing is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of bacteria. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling food. Also wash when you switch from one food to another

• Keep counter tops and utensils sanitized. Tip: you can make your own sanitizer by combining 5 mL (1 tsp) of bleach with 750 mL (3 cups) of water in a spray bottle. (Don’t forget to label the bottle!)

• When camping or on a picnic, be sure to bring clean water. You may also want to consider using waterless hand sanitizer or disposable wipes.

Proper prep work
• Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter or outdoors. Don’t reuse marinade that contained raw meat; if you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce for the cooked food, be sure to reserve a portion of it before marinating. Tip: when marinating food in the refrigerator, place it in a dish with sides to prevent it from dripping on other food such as produce.

• Keep raw and cooked foods strictly separate. Don’t use a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood for anything else unless it has been thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water.

• When packing a cooler for a picnic, wrap raw meats securely and place on the bottom to keep them from dripping on other foods.

• Wash all raw fruits and vegetables in clean water. Keep in mind that you cannot detect bacteria by the way the food looks, smells or tastes.

• Sanitize counters and work spaces frequently.

Use the food thermometer
The safe chef doesn’t depend on guess work! Make sure you kill harmful bacteria by cooking food thoroughly. According to Health Canada, the safe temperatures for cooked foods are:
• 71° C (160° F) for ground beef
• 74° C (165° F) for leftover food
• 85° C (185° F) for whole poultry

Tip: If you have to check more than once, clean the thermometer before using it again.

Eat cooked food while it’s still hot – bacteria can grow when food is allowed to cool down slowly. And contrary to popular belief, health experts say hot dogs should always be cooked to kill bacteria called Listeria.