Safe at the Grill!

grilling vegetablesSummer’s here and we’re cranking up our grills. Fourth of July is just around the corner. There’s nothing like a spending a Sunday or holiday afternoon having grilled delights with friends and family. Ah, it doesn’t get any better than that!

And not to put a damper on the fun, but I’m writing this blog to suggest some ways to make our grilling masterpieces healthier and safer. Hey, what can I say….I’m a nutritionist! It’s an occupational hazard not to partake of a little health and food safety with my grilling! So all you “grillmeisters” please indulge me and take note of a few tidbits of advice that will help you play it safe at the grill:

–        Avoid heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. (Yeah I know, common everyday words right?) These are substances that can form when cooking meats at high temperatures and when fat drips onto flame causing smoke and charring meat. They’re associated with a higher risk for cancers, particularly stomach, pancreatic, colorectal, prostate and breast. To avoid these potential carcinogens:

  •  Partially pre-cook meat at a lower temperature (microwave, oven roast, boil) so the time that meat is exposed to high temperature on the grill is reduced
  • Choose lean cuts of meat
  • Remove fat prior to grilling, so that it doesn’t drip onto flame causing smoke and meat charring
  • Cut meat into smaller pieces so that it cooks faster, reducing the time exposed to heat
  • Flip meat often to avoid charring or burning (e.g. flip burgers about once every minute)
  • Marinate meat prior to grilling with vinegar or lemon juice along with your favorite herbs (choose a marinade without sugar to avoid charring the meat) – this makes your meat both safer and tastier
  • Put aluminum foil on the grill; poke holes in it so the fat drains off but the resulting smoke doesn’t contact the meat
  • Grill plenty of fruits and veggies – even when charred they don’t pose the health risk that meat does because of different proteins that are not affected in the same way as meat protein

–        Cook your meat to the appropriate internal temperature, preferably by using a food thermometer. USDA recommended safe internal temperatures:

  • Fish = 145 degrees F
  • Pork, beef, veal and lamb – roasts, steaks and chops = 145 degrees F
  • Ground pork, beef, veal and lamb = 160 degrees F
  • Turkey, chicken and duck – roasts, pieces and grounds = 165 degrees F

–        Use a clean plate in which to place the cooked meat, not the same one used for the meat when it was raw.man grilling with wife support

–        Clean your grill carefully. If you use a brush, check for bristles left on the grill. Numerous emergency room visits have resulted from someone ingesting a stray bristle cooked into the meat just after the grill had been cleaned. Spray the grill with a hose after cleaning or wipe down with a damp cloth or wet paper towel.

Grilling is synonymous with summer, and offers a delicious way to prepare food. Looking out for our health doesn’t have to mean sacrificing this enjoyment. Enjoy all the more, knowing you are keeping your food safe and healthy!

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