Summer Food Safety

Story by Karyl Henry

June is National Safety Month, so rather than showcasing a recipe this month, I wanted to talk about food safety. National Food Safety Month is in September, but because we’re getting ready to spend a lot more time cooking and entertaining outdoors, this is the perfect opportunity to share some tips and reminders about summer food safety.

KEEP YOUR GRILL CLEAN

I used to be the person that lightly wiped the grates after each use, and sort of did a true cleaning each spring. One year the grates were so bad I just replaced them rather than trying to clean them. Since then I’ve made a conscious effort to do a better job of regular cleaning. It is not perfect, but it is much better.

Getting Your Grill Clean:

  • I use a Grill Grate Grid Scrub. It’s a thick scrubber pad made with nylon/polyester fibers. I like that it has a wide surface and a large handle, and it cleans well. They’re very inexpensive, so I always have a couple of back-ups.
  • Wire brush bristles eventually become loose and stick to the grate. Every year people end up in the emergency room because the bristles got stuck to food and ingested. If you do use a wire brush, check it regularly. If you see that any part of the brush is worn, toss the brush immediately and get a new one. Even better, treat them as you would a toothbrush and replace them regularly.
  • An alternative to the wire brush that’s becoming popular is a Nylon Brush. The bristles are “break-resistant” and many have bright red bristles. So if one does come loose, you are going to see it easily. I recently found a Large Surface Grill Brush. The bristles are black, but I really like the large cleaning surface, and they are inexpensive enough that I can replace them easily.
  • Make sure the grill is cool/cold before cleaning! You don’t want to burn yourself, and scrubbers are not designed to be used on a hot grill.

There are, of course, plenty more brush and scrubbing options to keep your grill clean. There are also spray cleaning solutions you can use. I’m not a fan of the cleaning solutions, unless the grates are super dirty and you are using them to deep-clean. You also need to make sure to thoroughly rinse the grates afterwards, to ensure that no residue remains. I found my favorites through trial and error, and I’m sure you will too.

After Scrubbing:

  • Wipe the grates with a soft cloth to remove any residual residue. I buy packs of inexpensive Terry Cloth Towels from the paint or car care section of the store. I wash them with soap and water after each use, and toss them once they’ve worn out.
  • Wipe the grates one more time with vegetable oil. This will help to season the grates, and get them ready for the next use. Grab a cloth or a wad of paper towels with a pair of tongs, dip it in the oil, and wipe the grates.

TIPS FOR COOKING PROTEIN ON THE GRILL (Steak, Burgers, Chicken, Pork, etc.)

  • If your meat is frozen, allow enough time for it to thaw completely so that it cooks evenly. I try to always take food out of the freezer 24 hours ahead, and put it in the fridge to thaw.
  • Keep your meat cold until you are ready to grill.
  • Marinating your meat will add great flavor, but beware of cross-contamination! Make extra marinade specifically for basting, and discard the used marinade as soon as you are finished with it.
  • Do not use the same utensils and platters for raw meat and cooked meat. If you have to use the same utensils/platters, wash them thoroughly with hot, soapy water and dry them well before using them with cooked meat.
  • Once you put the meat on the grill, close the cover and leave it alone! Heat escapes and the temperature drops every time you open the cover. Also, you won’t get those signature grill marks if you move the food every thirty seconds.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS cook your chicken and any other poultry thoroughly! Undercooked poultry is a recipe for disaster. Use a meat thermometer to check to make sure chicken reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • I always cook my pork all the way through. I’ve heard some chefs say it’s okay to under-cook it a little bit, but that is not for me. Use a thermometer to make sure fresh pork reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

BASIC GRILLING SAFETY

  • Always heat the grill before adding food. Your food will not cook evenly or properly if you start with a cold grill.
  • If you use GAS grill, keep the cover CLOSED when you ignite the burners. Every year people get severe burns from flames when they ignite a gas grill with the lid open. Gas grills always have ignition instructions clearly visible on the grill, so follow those instructions every time. Once you ignite the grill, then you can open the cover and adjust the temperature accordingly.
  • For a CHARCOAL grill
    • Discard any ash remaining in the bottom of the grill
    • Use a Chimney Starter to get the charcoals lit. The charcoals will light and burn faster, because they are in the enclosed space of the starter. Once you see flames, release the charcoals into the grill.
    • Use a long-neck grill lighter to light the charcoal.
    • When you are finished grilling for the day, close the lid and make sure to close the air vent. This will prevent oxygen from reaching the coals, and they will extinguish. This will take some time, depending on the size of your grill and the amount of charcoal. The most important thing is, don’t leave the grill totally unattended until the fire is completely extinguished! All it takes is a gust of wind and some still-burning coals to create a major catastrophe.

HOW LONG CAN I LEAVE FOOD OUT?

When we’re entertaining and guests are mingling outside, the last thing we want to do is be stuck in the kitchen cooking. And we don’t want our guests to have to come inside to eat, if everything else is outside. But the absolute last thing we want is for our guests to get sick because we didn’t practice basic food safety.

  • In general, perishable foods (meat, eggs, dairy, cooked casseroles, etc.) should not be out at room temperature for more than two hours. If the food is outside at more than 90 degrees, it should not be out for more than one hour.
  • If you are going to have perishable food out for longer than two hours, you need to keep it either hot or cold.
    • To keep food warm: use a chafing dish with sterno heat, crockpot, or electric or gas powered covered cookware.
    • To keep food cold: place a serving bowl inside of a larger bowl that is at least twice the width and at least the same height. You need ample space around the serving bowl for ice. Fill the larger bowl with ice, and nest the serving bowl inside, while making sure to put a layer of ice underneath the serving bowl. Replenish the ice as necessary.

These tips will give you a little more wiggle room, but it’s still not a license to leave food out all day long.

  • Keep food covered. Ants and flies like our food as much as we do.
  • Do not put perishable foods out until right before your guests arrive. Once the food is out, that clock starts.

Now get out there, heat up the grill, and have a delicious summer!