The Recipe You Need When Combining Food, Fire, and Fun

August 24, 2010

Eating outdoors with friends

Grilling out is a fun and tasty part of summer that brings together family, friends, and neighbors. But when you're working with food and fire, you have to stay on top of things to keep it fun.

Tips for Safe Grilling

Anytime you're working with fire, it can be dangerous, so you can't let your guard down. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that as many as 18,000 people were sent to emergency rooms last year because of grilling accidents. The National Fire Protection Association tells us that fire departments rush to about 7,900 home fires caused by grills each year.

Here are some smart safety tips gathered from top grilling safety experts, including the National Fire Protection Association, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

Safety tips for all grills:

  • Gas and charcoal grills are for outdoor use only. NEVER use them in your home, garage, trailer, tent, or any other closed-in area. Carbon monoxide, a gas you can't see or smell, can build up and be deadly.
  • Place your grill away from your home, other buildings, and deck railings; out from under eaves, carports, and branches; and away from dry leaves or brush.
  • Put the grill on a solid, flat surface where it won't tip over.
  • Read the owner's manual that comes with your grill and follow the directions carefully.
  • Keep your grill clean. Don't let grease or fat build up on the grill or in the trays under it.
  • Be prepared. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Or use baking soda or a bucket of sand to put out a grease fire. And have a hose ready to put out flames on clothing or surrounding items.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill, starter fluid, sharp tools, and other dangerous objects.
  • Once the grill is lit, keep a close watch over it at all times.
  • Use forks, tongs, and tools with long handles to avoid burns.
  • Wear safe clothing. Apron strings, hanging shirttails, scarves, and other loose clothing can easily catch fire.

If you use a gas (propane) grill:

  • Before you use your grill for the first time each year, check the gas tank for hose leaks. A good way to do this is to put a light coat of soap and water on it. A gas leak will show up because it causes bubbles. If your grill has a leak, and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and the grill. If the leak stops, get the grill fixed by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.
  • Check the tubes that lead to the burner to make sure nothing is blocking them. If something is in the way, use a pipe cleaner to push it through to the main part of the burner.
  • Make sure there are no sharp bends in the hose or tubing.
  • If you ever smell gas while you're grilling, move everyone away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not try to move the grill.
  • Don't try to fix the tank valve of a grill yourself. Have a trained repairperson do it.

If you use a charcoal grill:

  • If you use starter fluid, use only starter fluid that is made for charcoal. Never use gasoline or other fluid. And never add more fluid once the coals get hot, or there is a flame.
  • If you use an electric starter, be sure to use an extension cord made for outdoor use.
  • Coals stay hot for a long time after grilling. Wait until they are fully cooled and then put them in a metal container.
  • Do not store the grill indoors with coals you've just finished using.

Food Safety Tips

One of the most important things you can do to help your guests have a great time at your cookout is to serve them food that's safe to eat. Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will help.

Clean: When you are working with food, be sure your surfaces, tools, and hands are clean.

Separate: Don't let raw meats or poultry – or the juices from them – touch any other raw or cooked foods. Also, don't use the same cutting boards for raw meat and poultry that you use for other foods.

Cook: A food thermometer is one of the most important tools you can use when you grill. Meat and poultry may brown on the outside long before they are cooked on the inside. To kill any germs they might have, they should be cooked until they reach the following temperatures on the inside:

  • Steaks, roasts, and chops – 145º
  • Hamburgers – 160º
  • Poultry – 165º
  • Fish – 145º
  • Cooked meats such as hot dogs – 165º or until steaming hot

After meat and poultry are cooked, put them on a clean plate, not back on the one that held them when they were raw.

Chill: You need to keep foods a safe temperature. Hot foods should be kept at 140º and cold foods kept chilled to 40º. Food that can spoil should never sit out for more than two hours. And if it's hotter than 90º outside, don't keep food out for more than one hour.

For more information on grilling safety, visit the Consumer Products Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml97/97128.html; the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org/itemDetail.asp?categoryID=1714&itemID=41221&URL-Research%20&%20Reports/Fact%20sheets/Seasonal%20safety/Grilling/Grilling%20safety%20tips; or the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association at www.hpba.org/consumers/barbecue/general-grilling-safety.

To learn more about food safety, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture at http://origin-www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_051908_01/index.asp.

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