The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and Memorial Day is fast approaching -- all signs that the summer grilling season is nearly upon us. Although more than half of Americans say they cook outdoors all year, this is the time of year when the aroma of meat being grilled is often noticed when driving through a neighborhood in the evening.
Handling food safely from the grocery store to the table is important. The last thing anyone wants to do is to make family or friends sick. Following are some basic guidelines to ensure that your next grilled meal reaches the table safely.
* Marinate safely. Marinate foods in the refrigerator -- never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry or seafood. Don't reuse marinade.
* Cook immediately after "partial cooking." If you partially cook food indoors to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.
* Cook food thoroughly. When it's time to cook the food, have a food thermometer ready. Always use it to be sure food is cooked thoroughly. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends the following internal temperatures for meats:
145° F -- Steaks, roasts and fish;
160° F -- Pork, ground beef and egg dishes;
165° F -- Chicken breasts and whole poultry.
* Keep "ready" food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals. This keeps it hot but prevents overcooking.
* Don't reuse platters or utensils unless they've been washed first in hot, soapy water. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held or handled raw meat, poultry, or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food's juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.
Grilling is a healthy way to cook if you don't overcook food. At high temperatures, compounds in grilled meat, poultry and fish are converted into heterocylic amines (HCAs) which have been linked to a number of cancers.
Also, the smoke generated when fat and juices drip on the hot coals or rocks can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), another potential cancer causing chemical. As the smoke rises up past the food it can deposit PAHs on the surface of the meat.
Even though no specific guidelines for HCA/PAH consumption exist, the National Cancer Institute recommends reducing exposure by using certain cooking methods.
Avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoid prolonged cooking times, especially at high temperatures. Using a microwave oven to cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures can also substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat.
Continuously turning meat about once every minute while cooking on a high heat source can substantially reduce HCA formation compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often.
If portions of the meat are charred, remove them. Don't eat any of the meat that is charred.
Grilling is not the only way HCA is produced in meat or fish. Any method of cooking meat with extremely high heat, such as pan searing, pan roasting or frying, can cause HCA to form. It is better to cook meat on lower heat.
It's not just meat that tastes so good hot off the grill.
Try grilling your favorite vegetables and fruits along with the meat for a meal. Fruits and veggies do not contain the protein that forms harmful HCAs.
And, plenty of fruits and veggies are important for a healthy diet!