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Expert tips help you avoid the ill in grill

  • Story Highlights
  • Summer peak season for food-borne illnesses
  • Expert: Keep hot foods above 140 degree and cold foods below 40 degrees
  • Don't put cooked food on plates or trays that held raw food
  • Leave food out no longer than 2 hours; 1 hour if it's a 90-degree day
  • Next Article in Health »
By Brittani Tingle

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You've lit the grill, marinated the meat, and gathered your family and friends for a savory feast -- summer tradition at its best. But beware: You may have invited more guests than you thought.


Ground meat must be cooked to a higher internal temp (160 degrees) than steak.

Summer is peak season for food-borne illnesses, which strike 76 million people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2004 CDC report found nearly half of all E. coli and salmonella cases took place between July and September.

To make sure you send guests home with yummy leftovers instead of food poisoning, follow these simple tips from the food safety experts:

The prep

The first lesson in grilling: Hot foods must stay hot (above 140 degrees), and cold foods must stay cold (below 40 degrees), says Kathleen L. D'Ovidio, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science in the Food Science and Management Department at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Any temperature in between is a danger zone where all kinds of bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter love to breed.

Follow this rule especially when thawing and marinating meat. Keep meat in the fridge, not on the counter. Also, put your meat in a dish with sides to keep it from dripping on other things such as produce, says Janet Anderson, a nutrition and food science professor at Utah State University. The smart woman's summer survival guide

Any sauce that touches raw meat should be treated like raw meat, Anderson says. Add final touches of flavor with sauce that hasn't been used yet, or if you must use the marinade, boil it for at least a minute before spreading it on cooked meat,

Before cooking, fill your kitchen sink with hot, soapy water, Anderson says. That way dirty trays and utensils go straight into the sink, and you're not tempted to use them again. You also should have a ready washcloth for sanitizing any surface that raw food has touched.

If you're grilling at a beach or park where you don't have ready access to a sink, bring a water jug, soap, and paper towels, D'Ovidio says. Disposable towelettes and antibacterial gel work in a pinch, but they're not as effective as soap and water. Healthy, handy options to help beat the bugs

While you grill

Internal cooking temperature is the key to grilling safely, Anderson says, and using a meat thermometer is crucial. "Just looking at the outside of the meat or cutting it open does not tell you enough."

Ground meat must be cooked to a higher internal temp (160 degrees) than steak because microorganisms have been introduced to the inside of the food and are not just on the surface, D'Ovidio says. And contrary to popular belief, hot dogs should always be cooked to kill a certain bacteria called Listeria. Staying safe in the sun

Grill over medium heat, Anderson says. High heat will burn your meat and make you think the inside is done before it actually is. When you're through cooking, don't put cooked food on plates or trays that held raw food. This is one of the biggest mistakes that home grillers make.

The leftovers

Leave food out for no longer than two hours. "If it stays out longer than that, you have to toss it," D'Ovidio says. "If you have a 90 degree-plus day, don't let food sit out for more than an hour."

Put food out in small amounts, keeping the rest in the fridge or cooler. Other perishables such as mayonnaise, potato salad, or chicken salad should be kept in big bowls of ice.

Finally, when you're ready to store leftovers in the fridge, put small pieces in a single layer in a shallow container, so they will cool down as quickly as possible, Anderson says. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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Copyright Health Magazine 2009

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