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Things to keep in mind when grilling this summer


Nothing beats the taste of flame grilled food in the summertime. But there are some things to keep in mind in terms of safety when using the grill.

This week on “Take Care,” food safety expert Benjamin Chapman tells us what we need to know. Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. He's also the co-host of the podcast “Food Safety Talk.”

Aside from the basic knowledge of not getting too close to the flame when grilling, there are many other things that can go wrong. Since a grill cooks food at such a high temperature, you may mistake the look of food being done on the outside when it’s not yet cooked on the inside. This could potentially lead to food poisoning and other bacterial illnesses, according to Chapman.

“The biggest [mistake] is not having a food thermometer,” Chapman said. “You can’t look at any of these foods that you’re cooking on a grill to know they’ve met a safe temperature.”

Although Chapman says it’s unlikely for bacteria from undercooked food to remain on a grill because of the high temperatures, charred remnants can affect the quality of what you’re cooking.Research has also concluded that there is a link between ingesting too much charred food and cancer. Chapman says this is caused by the compound acrylamide, which becomes present after heating food to extreme temperatures.

However, when cleaning these remnants, Chapman says to be aware of the tools you use.In a rare case, a woman was hospitalized after ingesting a bristle from a cleaning brush that got into the food she grilled.

“Physical hazards are definitely important when it comes to grilling season,” Chapman said.

He advises to clean the bristles of a grill brush after each use, and make sure you replace the brush every year.

But aside from undercooked food and loose cleaning bristles, grilling hazards can also arise from marinades and leftovers.

Although you may think you’re adding extra flavor, Chapman says not to use marinade that was touched by raw meat on meat that is cooked. This can transfer a lot of bacteria and cause illness.

“Assume that with every piece of meat that there is some pathogen on the outside of it until [you] cook it to a safe temperature,” Chapman said.

As for leftovers, some may leave cooked food on the grill rack to keep it warm, but Chapman says there are rules to this.

“As long as it’s above 135 degrees and you’re measuring that with a thermometer, you’re good to go. Or if you’re only going to keep it in there for a short amount of time,” Chapman said.

Otherwise it’s possible for bacteria to grow. Once food is off the grill, Chapman says you have about four hours to consume it before having to worry about reheating it.