Published on 04/29/10

Keep guests smilin' with safe grillin'

By Judy A. Harrison

Like your neighbors and friends and want to keep them happy? If so, when you invite them for a cook-out, you better make sure the food is safe. Bacteria can multiply quickly in warm, summer temperatures and can turn outdoor entertaining into a neighborhood nightmare.

Food safety is just as important when grilling outdoors as it is in the kitchen. Food that is not handled properly can make you sick. To keep guests safe from foodborne illness, remember to:


Wash your hands before you touch food and after you handle raw meat, poultry, fish, seafood or eggs. If the location where you are grilling has no running water or soap, take disposable hand wipes and hand sanitizer. You may want to use disposable gloves when handling raw items. Change to a new pair of gloves before handling cooked products.

Always keep the food-preparation area clean and use clean utensils. If working outside, take aluminum foil or disposable plates to use as a clean preparation surface and have plenty of disposable utensils on hand. In the kitchen, keep counters, dishes and utensils clean by washing with soap and hot water.


Always keep foods separate. Keep contaminated surface and raw food and their juices from coming in contact with foods that are already cooked or ready to eat, like fruits and vegetables. Use a clean plate when removing cooked meats from the grill. Do not put the cooked meat on the plate you used to bring raw meat to the grill.


Meat or poultry cooked on the grill can brown quickly on the outside. But is it really done? Take the guesswork out of grilling by using a food thermometer. This helpful tool will tell you when the food has reached the necessary temperature inside to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.

When you check thin food like burgers, insert the stem of the thermometer through the side of the patty to get an accurate reading. Ground beef should reach at least 160 degrees F in the center to be safe. Ground poultry should reach at least 165 degrees. Whole cuts of beef, veal or lamb should reach at least 145 degrees for medium rare or 160 degrees for medium doneness. Pork chops and pork loins should reach 160 degrees. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food away from any bones and fat. Wait at least 15 seconds to take the reading.


Keeping food cold is one way to keep harmful bacteria from multiplying. Even when thawing frozen foods, it is important to use methods that don't allow the food's surface to warm up while the food is still frozen inside.

There are three safe methods for thawing foods:

  1. Thaw ahead of time in the refrigerator.
  2. Thaw in cold water, changing water every 30 minutes.
  3. Thaw in the microwave, cooking the warm food immediately after thawing.

If you are planning to marinate meat or poultry before grilling, marinate first in the refrigerator, not on your kitchen counter at room temperature.

A summertime cook-out is a great way to entertain your neighbors and friends. But to keep them happy and healthy, remember to keep the food safe for them.

Judy Harrison is a food safety specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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