Dietitian Suggests Food Safety Around The Grill

Armen Hareyan's picture

Food Safety and The Grill

Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff of summer. Not only is it the weekend most pools open, it's also the first time many people uncover the barbecue pit.

However, a combination of warm temperatures and raw meat provides an ideal situation for bacteria to multiply. That can lead to food-borne illness and anything from an upset stomach to food poisoning.

Natalie Allen, registered dietitian at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, says uncooked meat or poultry can leave unseen germs everywhere they've been.

"A couple of ways you can avoid cross-contamination or spreading of that bacteria is keeping a separate set of utensils for the cooked meat or the raw meat or washing it in your soapy dishwater at a hot temperature," says Allen. "Also, having separate cutting boards, one for vegetables and one for meats, is a real good idea, and that can really help avoid cross-contamination as well."

If cross-contamination on a counter-top seems obvious, don't forget about any marinades. Many grillers like to use the sauce for basting, but Allen says marinade is a hidden home for bacteria and should be discarded after it touches raw meat.

"If you like to use marinade for basting, then go ahead and save some of the marinade before you put the meat in and use that to baste the meat when it's on the grill," says Allen. "Do not use marinade that has had the raw meat in it for a sauce after you have cooked the meat, because the marinade has bacteria in it."


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises to thaw meat evenly before grilling. Allen says putting the raw meat in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 24 hours best does this. However, many try to cut corners by using the microwave, which Allen says is okay, but she says warm meat needs to be cooked right away.

"Do not put meat in the microwave, defrost it and then let it sit for a few hours before you grill it, because then it's just growing a lot of bacteria in it, which is not good," she says.

By following good safety tips, you will avoid issues associated with bacteria as minimal as gastrointestinal issues and as serious as E. coli. However, Allen says kids are the most at risk. "Since their bodies are so small if they eat a big portion of meat that hasn't been cooked well, it's going to be harder for them to defend against the bacteria than in an adult," says Allen.

Allen also adds that meat be cooked thoroughly. She suggests cutting the thickest part of the meat to check for clear juice rather than blood and to make sure all poultry is cooked thoroughly.


Barnes and Jewish Hospital