Summer and a hot grill – is there a more classic combination? Big open parks and backyard patios are begging to be hosting grounds (for groups of less than 10, of course) and the grill calls to amateur and professional grillers alike. 

There’s something about seeing those crisscrossed grill lines on your food that makes already amazing dishes taste even better. However, cooking raw meat in the open air is essentially the same as sending an invitation to any nearby bacteria who want to spoil a good time. Foodborne illness kills 3,000 people per year, according to the American Medical Association. So you need to be diligent when you are grilling, especially for your guests. 

Before you get going on your cookout, it’s important to refresh your memory on how to safely prepare food outdoors. Here are some tips for having a safe grill out this summer. 

Avoid compromised foods at home and at the grocery store. 

Always check and follow the sell-by date on your meats, cheeses and produce. When you pick up a package of meat, put a plastic produce bag around it to keep bacteria on the packaging from leaking onto other food. 

Keep your grilling station clean. 

Always inspect and clean your grill before you start cooking, especially if you are using a public grill, like at a campground. If the grill looks rusted, don’t use it. 

To clean a grill, use a damp cloth or paper towel and wipe down the grill’s handles and all flat surfaces. Avoid wire bristle brushes because the metal can flake off and cause mouth and throat injuries. 

As a rule, if something has touched raw meat, it needs to be washed or thrown away immediately. That means you should use a clean plate and clean tools when you remove your grilled meat from the rack. Throw away all extra marinades and sauces if they were used on raw meat, too – those can’t be used again. 

Keep cold things cold and hot things hot. 

Always refrigerate meat until it is ready to be grilled. When transporting meat from the refrigerator to the grilling station, keep it in an insulated cooler below 40°F and try not to open it too much. 

When you cook meat, it’s important to make sure it’s cooked all the way through. Meat thermometers are handy tools to use to make sure the internal temperature of your meat is correct. Here is a quick guide: 

  • Beef, pork, lamb, fish and veal should be 145°F 
  • Hamburgers and ground beef should be 160°F 
  • Poultry and hot dogs should be 165°F (Never eat chicken that looks even just little pink in the middle.) 

If you finish grilling your meat early but want to keep it warm, you can leave it on the side of the grill rack away from the hot coals. 

Serve and store leftovers appropriately. 

When you serve food, keep cold dishes like potato salad, slaw and desserts cold by leaving them in coolers. Don’t serve them next to hot dishes. 

In most cases, leftovers can be out for no longer than two hours, but if the temperature outside is over 90°F, they should only be left outside for an hour. 

Don’t forget that safe grilling also involves protecting yourself and those around you from fire and hot tools. Avoid being burned by using caution next to an open flame, and keep a careful eye on any children in the vicinity. 

Whatever is on your list to grill this summer, it’s important to keep in mind that foodborne illness is a common issue, can happen to anyone and can be fatal in some cases. As the chef, you should keep the safety of yourself and your guests in mind and be as clean and orderly as possible when grilling. 

Visit the QualChoice website to learn how you can make healthier choices this summer.  


Dr. Lubna Maruf, M.D., is the medical director at QualChoice Health Insurance in Little Rock.