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Health Center Today, August 3, 2010

Barbecue Beware Safe Grilling Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning at Your Next Picnic

By Carolyn Pennington

Grilling keeps the heat out of the kitchen and can be lots of fun -- as long as you practice safe food handling and cooking.

Just how common is food poisoning? Some 76 million cases of food-borne illness, resulting in 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, are reported to the government each year, according to the CDC.

When those uninvited guests creep into your meal, they can wreak havoc. Food poisoning symptoms come in all forms: chills, fever, dizziness, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Many people mistake the symptoms for stomach flu.

You can prevent most food-borne illnesses by following some simple guidelines:

  • Wash your hands often -- before, during and after food preparation and handling.
  • Clean grills with hot, soapy water before firing them up.
  • Keep coolers, containers, knives, grill tongs, forks, and cutting boards clean.
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and for cooked meats, and still another set for produce.
  • Always use a meat thermometer to determine whether meat is done. Meat fork thermometers make it easy to check burgers and other flat foods.
  • Refrigerate food promptly after you buy it, and no more than two hours after you serve it. In very hot weather, don't keep food out longer than one hour.
  • Use one platter for raw meat and another for after it's done.

UConn Health Center registered dietitian Linda York also says be careful when marinating food. "Always marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter, and if some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it," adds York. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days.

When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.