Healthy And Safe Grilling

Grilling is fun and flavorful and can be one of the healthiest ways to cook, but did you know that an estimated 128,000 Americans are hospitalized with food poisoning each summer? Foodborne illness can be prevented by taking precautions.

When purchasing any raw meat, poultry or seafood, check the sell-by and use-by dates, and keep them separated from other groceries while shopping. Choose the meats last and put them in plastic bags to transport them home.

Whether grilling in the backyard or the local park, be careful to handle all perishable foods properly. Keeping the perishable foods in a cooler, on ice, at a temperature below 40 degrees is vital to prevent bacterial growth. It is also important not to consume any foods that are kept above 40 degrees for more than two hours, and if the temperature is above 90 degrees outside it should be discarded after only an hour.

One way to prevent cross contamination of foods and keep perishables fresh is to use two coolers — one for beverages that can be opened and closed often during the day and another for perishable foods. Make sure the juices from the meats do not come into contact with other perishable foods. Using waterproof containers for meats is one way to prevent this from happening. If using a marinade for meats, always marinate in the refrigerator or cooler. Throw out any used marinade. If more is desired while cooking, make a new batch or remember to save some of the original (before it came in contact with meat). It is also important to never use the same plate for both raw and cooked foods. The raw meat will have harmful bacteria that could contaminate the cooked foods.

Before beginning to cook, clean the grill. If using a wire brush it is a good idea to purchase a new one each year. Also, make sure that there are no wire bristles left on the grill. If a piece of the wire bristle sticks to the food and is consumed it could cause serious medical problems. Instead of a wire brush, a wet paper towel or moist cloth could be used to clean the grill. If a wire brush is used, rub half an onion on the grill after using the wire brush to pick up any brush bits. It will also help stop bacterial growth because of the sulfuric acid in the onion and help season the food.

When gathering all the grilling tools together, include a meat thermometer. It is very important that a meat thermometer is used and doneness is not determined by the internal color of the meat.

Safe Internal Temperatures for Meat

— Steaks –145 degrees

— Ground meats — 160 degrees

— Pork — 160 degrees

— Poultry — 165 degrees

— Fish — 145 degrees

— Hot dogs — even though they are precooked it is important to cook them on the grill and keep them at a temperature above 140 degrees. This is especially important for those with compromised immune systems and pregnant because of the possibility of contracting listeriosis.

Choose these foods to make it a healthier cookout:

1. Pick the perfect protein. Fish, skinless chicken breast and lean ground poultry are all healthier choices. Or if you choose red meat or pork, look for “loin” or “round” cuts and “choice” or “select” grades of beef instead of “prime.”

2. Check portions. A healthy portion of any type of meat is about 3 ounces. This is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of a women’s hand. Always keep it under 6 ounces.

3. Think color! Almost all the favorite colorful veggies can be grilled, alone or in kebabs. Cut them into pieces that will cook quickly and evenly. Brush with a healthy oil to prevent sticking or use a grill basket to keep them out of the line of fire.

4. Choose whole grain. Whole-grain buns and breads will complement the meal with extra fiber, flavor and texture. If watching calories and carbs, try an open-faced burger or lettuce wrap.

5. Grill fruits for dessert. The natural sugars caramelize the fruit in the high heat, giving it extra sweetness and flavor.

Cheryl Kaczor is an assistant professor for West Virginia University Extension Services and is a families and health agent in Marshall County. She has a master’s degree in community health promotion from WVU and a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Rutgers University.

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