Best Food Forward: Safety first when cooking outdoors




Does grilling pose cancer risk?

Some studies suggest there may be a cancer risk related to eating food cooked by high-heat cooking techniques as grilling, frying, and broiling. Based on present research findings, eating moderate amounts of grilled meats such as fish, meat, and poultry cooked — without charring — to a safe temperature does not pose a problem.

To prevent charring, remove visible fat that can cause a flare-up. Precook meat in the microwave immediately before placing it on the grill to release some of the juices that can drop on coals. Cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them. Cut charred portions off the meat.

Safe Food Temperatures

Steaks and roasts - 145 °F

Fish - 145°F

Pork - 160°F

Ground beef - 160°F

Chicken breasts - 165°F

Shrimp, lobster, and crabs - cook until pearly and opaque

Clams, oysters, and mussels - cook until the shells are open.

Cooking outdoors was once only a summer activity shared with family and friends. Now, more than half of Americans say they are cooking outdoors year-round. So no matter the time of year, it's important to follow food safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing food-borne illness. Use these simple guidelines for grilling food safely.


Buy cold food such as meat and poultry last, right before checkout. To prevent meat juices dripping on other foods, put packages of raw meat and poultry in plastic bags and separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart.

Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. If you are not going home right away, take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours and within one hour if it is above 90 degrees.

At home, place meat and poultry that will be used within one to two days in the refrigerator immediately. Otherwise, freeze the meat until ready to use.

Defrost safely

Defrost meat and poultry completely before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing, or thaw sealed packages in cold water. You can also thaw food under running cool water or in the microwave if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.


Always marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the counter at room temperature. If marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. Don't reuse marinade.

Keep everything clean

To prevent food-borne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and its juices can contaminate safely cooked food. This would include pastry brushes used to marinate while cooking, and tongs or forks used to place raw meat on the grill.

Cook thoroughly

Cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature. Never rely on the color of the meat or the juices running clear.

NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later or when you get to a

picnic site.

Serving the food

When taking food off the grill, use clean tongs or spatula and place on a clean platter. Don't put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.

If you need to keep it warm until more food is cooked, place the food in a warming oven or off to the side of the grill to keep warm. Once the food is set out on the table and ready to serve, never leave the foods sit out more than one hour if it's over 90.

Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours (one hour if temperatures are above 90).

Sandra Brown is a Food Safety and Nutrition faculty member for Washington State University's Clark County Extension. Reach her at 360-397-6060, ext. 5700, or