10 Biggest Food Safety Mistakes People Make at a Barbecue

Make sure your backyard barbecue is delicious — and totally safe!

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August 13, 2019
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What To Know Before You Fire Up the Grill

Barbecue season is in full swing! It can’t get any better than the aroma of juicy burgers and sizzle of vegetables on the grill. With grilling season also comes the threat of foodborne illness which can spoil all the fun. Here are the top 10 biggest food safety mistakes often made — and simple ways you can keep your barbecue favorites safe.

Defrosting Your Proteins Incorrectly

Whether you choose to defrost your frozen chicken, beef or fish on the counter top overnight, or worse, leave it out to defrost in the hot sun, you’re asking for trouble. Harmful bacteria can multiply at room temperature to levels that can make you sick (even if you cook the food properly). Those same bacteria will multiply even more rapidly in much warmer temperatures, like on a hot 90-degree day.

Instead: Plan ahead. Defrost your proteins in the refrigerator one or two days before you barbecue it.

Storing Uncooked Meats On Top of Ready-to-Eat Foods

Food safety isn’t just about cooking on the grill, but all the steps leading up to making that food. When defrosting meat, poultry and fish or storing uncooked proteins in the refrigerator, the last thing you want is juices from ground beef dripping on your fresh watermelon. This is a form of cross-contamination.

Instead: Store raw meat, poultry and fish on the bottom of your refrigerator or in a crisper drawer. You can also wrap it in a plastic bag to prevent any juices from leaking.

Using the Same Cutting Boards for Everything

Although it may be nice to save dishes, cutting the raw chicken on the same cutting board as your fruit and vegetables is a recipe for disaster. This is a common mistake known as cross-contamination, which can easily transfer the bacteria from your raw meats to your cooked produce.

Instead: Use separate cutting boards for raw meats, poultry and fish and ready-to-eat foods like produce and cheese.

Marinating At Room Temperature

Marinating meat, chicken, and fish adds flavor and makes your protein tender. Those acidic marinades can also help slow down any bacterial growth. A big faux pas is marinating your food uncovered at room temperature or outdoors in the heat. Bacteria love those warm temperatures, multiplying to amounts that can make someone sick.

Instead: Marinate your food covered in the refrigerator, and toss out any extra marinade that touched the raw meat, chicken or fish.

Packing Raw Meats with Raw Fruits and Vegetables

If you’re packing for a barbecue, you’ll oftentimes find yourself packing the raw chicken and burger patties with the fresh broccoli (for a broccoli slaw). Once again, those bacteria in the raw meats can easily find their way onto the raw vegetables which don't get cooked and the bacteria don't get destroyed.

Instead: Have two coolers available, one for raw meats and one for raw fruits, vegetables and other prepared foods.

Transporting Food in the Trunk

Find yourself packing your car with the food in the trunk? That is the hottest place in the car — and harmful bacteria love those temperatures in order to multiply.

Instead: Transport food in the passenger part of the car, where it is a bit cooler (especially with air conditioning).

Eyeballing Doneness

It may seem easier to look at your meat to see if it's done, but that isn’t the most accurate way. Checking your chicken or burger if they’re no longer pink doesn’t mean you’ve reached the proper temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria.

Instead: Invest a food thermometer (they start at around $10). Meat thermometers will have built in temperatures guides so you will know when your meat, chicken, or fish is done.

Buy a Meat Thermometer: Sur La Table, $99

Using Same Plates for Raw and Cooked Meats

Many folks use the same dish and tongs or other utensils for raw burgers, for example, and cooked burgers. If you’re using the same dish or utensils for raw and cooked meats, poultry or fish, you can unknowingly cross-contaminate the bacteria from the raw to cooked foods.

Instead: To avoid cross-contamination be prepared by having separate dishes and utensils for your raw and cooked foods.

Cooking Mass Amount of Meat At Once

A big barbecue calls for lots of grilled foods: hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, vegetables and fish. Many hosts grill up everything at the beginning, so the food will be ready when everyone arrives. But not everyone arrives at the same time and a few hours later, after the food has been sitting in the hot sun, folks may head for second or third helpings grabbing from that old pile of meats.

Instead: Prepare food in small batches. Keep raw meats in the cooler until they’re ready for the barbecue.

Leaving Leftovers Out All Day

It’s not only about leaving meats out all day, but all those salads slathered with mayonnaise get left outside at temperatures bacteria love to grow in. Sliced fruit, vegetables and prepared salads should be kept refrigerated. If leftovers are left out, then it should be no longer than one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees F or above, and no longer than two hours if it’s less than 90 degrees F.

Instead: Keep the time on the clock so you know how long food is left out. To minimize food waste, serve food in small batches and keep extras refrigerated until use.