Summer grilling made safer
By member Kristen Sherman, Muncie, Ind.
In biblical times celebrations and gatherings almost always involved food. In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:23), his father says, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”
Most celebrations and gatherings still include food. In the summer months, they’re often cookouts, bonfires and barbecues. There may no longer be a “fattened calf,” but the aroma of meat cooking on grills and over campfires still floods our senses and fills us with delight.
Food safety is often overlooked. Yet, it’s something to be considered when preparing all meals and particularly outdoor gatherings where refrigeration and proper cooking temperatures are hard to regulate.
Meat should be stored separately from fruit, vegetables and any other foods that will be consumed raw. Meat is a tricky item to protect from foodborne illness, both in cold storage and cooking on a grill. We know to avoid raw or undercooked meat; however, no one wants a tough piece of steak or a dried-out portion of chicken, either. Solve those problems by using a meat thermometer placed through the meat’s thickest part.
Here’s a guide to temperatures to help prevent illness from undercooked meats:
- 145 °F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (allowing cooked meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
- 160 °F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
- 165 °F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
- 145 °F for finfish or cook until flesh is opaque
After meat is cooked to the proper temperature, do not reuse plates or utensils that have previously touched raw meat. Visit foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html for additional times and temperatures for meats and other foods.
Many people aren’t aware that overcooking meat also involves some health risk. Grills and campfires are high-temperature heat sources that can form two chemicals associated with increased cancer risk. Beef, pork, and poultry are some of the meats prone to developing these chemicals. It’s safe to assume these cancer-linked chemicals have formed on meat—beef, pork or poultry—if you can see a char or burn on them. This doesn’t mean you need to stop enjoying grilled meat or food cooked over a campfire; however, it does mean care should be taken to reduce production of these chemicals. Here are a few tips:
- Limit the amount of time meat spends over flames.
- Turn meat often so you can observe and minimize charring.
- If grilling at home, consider partially pre-cooking meat in the oven or microwave or by boiling them; then finish them on the grill. Doing so helps preserve moisture and may even deliver a more pleasing finished product.
- If grilling away from home, consider choosing small and uniform cuts of meat that don’t require long cooking times.
- Trim excess fat off pieces of meat before grilling.
- If char or burn happens, simply remove it before eating. Clean your grill regularly and thoroughly to decrease transfer of leftover char the next time you grill.
- Consider again the biblical pattern for celebration: the fattened calf was saved for special occasions and cooking it was not a regular occurrence. Savoring the joy of time with family and friends enhances—and surpasses—the enjoyment of savory food. Challenge yourself to be healthy and wise in food selection and preparation.
Editor’s note: Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She also serves as a nutritional consultant for companies launching educational products. Kristen and her husband, Pastor Michael Sherman, have been CHM members since Jan. 2017 and reside in Muncie, Ind.