Whether you’re cooking dinner for the family, gathering with friends at a local park, or hosting an outdoor party, everyone loves a good cookout! But before the burgers and dogs hit the grill, it’s important to prioritize a safe experience for yourself and your guests.
From foodborne illness to grilling accidents, it’s important to plan ahead to keep everyone safe. Read on to learn important food preparation and grill safety tips to host your cookout while avoiding injuries or costly insurance claims.
PROPER PREPARATION IS KEY
When it comes to food safety, preparation is crucial to making sure you and your guests have a great time without getting sick.
Start with washing your hands.
In a 2018 survey, the USDA found that 97% of consumers don’t properly wash their hands when handling food.
The CDC advises wetting your hands and lathering them thoroughly with soap. Lather both sides of your hands as well as between your fingers and under your nails when washing. Then scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to scrub long enough to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ all the way through twice. Then rinse and dry your hands.
Handle meat products safely.
Always follow the CDC’s food safety guidelines to handle meat, poultry and seafood before it even reaches the grill.
- When shopping, get the meat, poultry, or seafood last – right before you pay.
- Separate it from other food right away and eep each package in its own plastic bag.
- Keep it refrigerated, even while it’s marinating.
- Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling raw meat products.
- Avoid cross-contamination by making sure raw meat, juices, or unwashed hands don’t come into contact with other utensils, food products, or surfaces.
- When you’re done cooking, wash all of your work surfaces and utensils
KEEP IT SAFE WHILE IT’S COOKING
There’s more to grilling than cooking burgers exactly how everyone likes them – the food needs to be cooked properly, too. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to taste like cardboard to be safe!)
The easiest way to ensure your burgers, steaks, fish or other meat products are safe to eat is to use a meat thermometer to track the internal temperature. Always follow the CDC food safety guidelines to cook your meat and seafood products to the appropriate temperature.
- Meat: Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to 145°F and allowed to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating
- Seafood: Fish and shellfish should be cooked to 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
- Burgers: Hamburgers and other ground beef should be cooked to 160°F
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey legs, and other poultry products should be cooked to 165°F
- Hot Dogs: Hot dogs and other pre-cooked meat products should be cooked to 165°F
After cooking, keep your food hot (at least 140°F) to avoid bacterial growth and foodborne illnesses.
The USDA says if you use a smoker the process is much slower. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. The heat needs to stay between 225 and 300° F while cooking. Once the meat is ready, it should reach the same internal temperature as when grilled.
WHERE THERE’S A GRILL, THERE’S A FIRE
Grills, smokers, and barbecues are behind more than 11,000 home fires every year, with more than half of these grill fires occurring from May to August.
Follow these grill safety tips to keep your cookout fire-free:
- Keep your grill away from the house, any railings, branches, and only use them outside.
- Remove grease and fat buildup from previous uses to prevent flareups and fires.
- Keep your guests away from the grill while it’s running, especially children.
- Never leave your grill running unattended.
|GAS GRILL SAFETY TIPS||CHARCOAL GRILL SAFETY TIPS|
|Check the hose for leaks or other issues before firing it up for the season||Only use charcoal starter fluid; never add any other flammable liquids to the fire|
|Always open the lid before lighting||When you’re done, let the coals cool completely before throwing them out|
|If you smell gas while cooking, move away from the grill and call the fire department immediately||Dispose of coals in a metal container as charcoal can remain active and reignite for several days|
Poorly maintained or dirty grills and smokers are accidents waiting to happen. According to the National Fire Protection Association, leaks or breaks were behind 9% of gas grill structure fires and 15% of outdoor gas grill fires. Inspect your grill regularly by checking to make sure the hoses are in good condition and properly attached and always make sure your grill is clean before firing it up.
SMOKE AND FIRE-RELATED INJURIES
The National Fire Protection Association says more than 22,000 patients go to the emergency room every year due to injuries involving grills, but fires aren’t the only cause of burns.
Your grill’s surface temperature often starts in the mid 200 degrees and can get as hot as 500 degrees, so be sure to keep your guests away from the grill while it’s running to avoid injuries.
Gasoline and lighter fluid is another common cause of injury — especially when it comes to charcoal grills. To reduce risk, it’s a good idea to add lighter fluid before turning on the grill. Keeping people away from the grill and waiting until it’s completely cool can help prevent burn injuries at your cookout or barbecue.
If someone does suffer a minor burn, place the injured body part under cold, running water to reduce swelling. Do not apply ice or pop any blisters. For more serious burns, remove clothing around the burn, cover it with a clean pad and call 911.
>> WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING A FIRE
Smoke inhalation is another potential risk — particularly for the person who’s cooking. Complete Care recommends grilling with the hood open so that smoke doesn’t accumulate underneath only to come flooding out when opened.
HOME SECURITY RISKS DURING A PARTY
When it comes to cookout safety, your mind probably doesn’t jump straight to home security. Do you leave doors unlocked and allow your guests to come and go when you host a backyard barbecue? If so, you may want to think twice.
You probably already know that hosting a party is a lot of work, but did you know that this distraction can allow home intruders to go unnoticed while you’re in the backyard entertaining your guests? Some tips to mitigate this risk:
- Ask your guests to call upon arrival so you can keep your doors closed and locked
- Arm your security system (if you have one)
- Set up video surveillance system to keep track of who’s entering your home
HEALTHY GRILLED FOOD OPTIONS
It may only be food safety-adjacent, but if you want to have a cookout with a little more nutrition involved and a little less grease, here are a few ideas:
- Try grilling fruits and vegetables. Have you ever grilled pineapple? How about dropping a couple shucked ears of corn right on the grill and rotating so they get a char? Be careful not to overcook them, but grilling fruit and vegetables can really bring out the flavor while remaining a healthier option.
- Choose the right meat and cook less of it: If you choose proteins that are leaner, they are healthier and less likely to cause flareups on the grill. Cutting the meat into smaller pieces and skewering them on kabobs with vegetables makes for a healthier meal as well.
BEEN INJURED AT A COOKOUT?
We hope these cookout safety tips are helpful as you plan your next outdoor gathering. If you or someone you know has been injured at a cookout, click here to get more information about Keches Law Group’s Injury attorneys.