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A source of pride for many men, grilling is no ordinary food preparation method. It takes skill, finesse and dedication to perfectly craft each and every item. But, before you fire up the grill with your utensil-of-choice at the ready, read the following advice from James Bain, MD, UnityPoint Health, about how to avoid food poisoning and other health risks associated with this seasonal hobby.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates there are approximately 48 million cases of food poisoning each year of which grilling and picnic cases play a significant part. Dr. Bain says with grilling, most of these are caused by contamination by the “chef” and/or under cooking with improper storage. Bacteria, like salmonella, clostridium, E.coli and listeria, are commonly responsible for food poisoning.
Eating outdoors in the summer presents several challenges, but Dr. Bain says following these steps can greatly decrease the chances of anyone getting sick:
• Wash hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. If you’re outdoors, you can use a water jug, soap and paper towels. Also, consider carrying disposable towelettes.
• Clean all food surfaces. Wash and clean all food surfaces and utensils, including the grill, thoroughly. Grill brushes with wire bristles pose an unintentional danger to your family and friends, as the bristles can fall onto the grilling area during cleaning. To avoid this risk, use alternative grill cleaning tools and methods, such as grill stones, scrubbers, etc. Also, don’t forget to clean your grill with soap, water and some elbow grease.
• Keep raw food separate from cooked food. Do not use plates previously used for raw foods until cleaned properly. Do the same with utensils and other food surfaces.
• Marinate food in the refrigerator. Reserve a separate portion of sauce for cooked meat that has not been used for raw meat.
• Cook food thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure food reaches recommended temperatures: hamburgers to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; chicken to 165; and fish to 145 degrees. Do not cook by appearance or touch.
• Keep food at the appropriate temperature. While eating, hot food should be kept above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and cold food should stay below 40 degrees.
• Refrigerate food within two hours. Do not leave at room temperature.
“If you get food poisoning despite these steps, you need to know symptoms may start from hours to days later, depending on the germ and amount eaten,” Dr. Bain says. “The most common food poisoning symptoms are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever. These may vary from mild to extremely severe.”
While anyone can get sick, those under 5 years old or over 65, pregnant or those with a weakened immune system are at greater risk. Dr. Bain says most of these symptoms pass within a few days, with a focus on rehydrating with water and electrolytes. Some cases may also require anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal agents.
“Electrolyte replacement needs to be from Pedialyte, Ceralyte, Oralyte or similar products. Sport drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, are not adequate for complete electrolyte replacement. Also, Pepto-Bismol as antidiarrheal agent may help you get better quicker, while other agents, like Imodium, improve diarrhea but not the infection. Neither should be used if high fever or bloody diarrhea,” Dr. Bain says.
Dr. Bain says if adults experience these food poisoning symptoms, see a doctor:
• Signs of dehydration, including decreased urine output, dry mouth and throat and dizziness when standing up
“Your doctor may or may not prescribe an antibiotic. Most of these infections are will pass on their own. Inappropriate use of antibiotics can cause its own problems, increase symptoms and lead to bacterial resistance. If an antibiotic is prescribed, take it all and don’t stop early because you seem better,” Dr. Bain says.
Food poisoning is a large health risk of grilling, but it’s not the only one. Before you fire up the grill for the first time, check your propane tank for gas leaks. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends using a light soap and water mixture around the hose connection point. If you turn the gas on and see bubbles around the hose, turn off the gas immediately. The NFPA also educates on grill fires, which are often caused by unclean grilling surfaces or grilling too close to another object, such as a house. At any point during the grilling process, if you smell gas and it doesn’t stop when turning it off or if your grill catches fire, call 911.