Good food guide

Barbecues: food safety

content supplied byNHS Choices

Barbecues are a great part of summer, but cases of food poisoning in the UK double in the summer months.

Germs from raw meat can move easily on to your hands and then to anything else you touch, including food that's cooked and ready to eat

In June, July and August there are more than 120,000 cases of the top two bugs (salmonella and campylobacter). Some simple precautions can help you keep food safe.

Food poisoning is usually mild, and most people get better within a week. But sometimes it can be more severe, even deadly, so it’s important to take the risks seriously. Children, older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

"The safest option is to cook food in the kitchen using your cooker," says a spokesperson from the Food Standards Agency. "You can then put the cooked food outside on the barbecue for flavour." This can be an easier option if you're cooking for lots of people.

But if you prefer to cook on the barbecue, the two main risk factors are: 

  • undercooked meat, and
  • spreading germs from raw meat on to food that’s ready to eat.

This is because raw or undercooked meat can contain germs that cause food poisoning, such as salmonella, E.coli and campylobacter. However, it’s easy to kill these germs if you cook the meat until it’s piping hot all the way through. 

Cooking meat 

These tips apply to all kinds of meat, including burgers, sausages, chicken, lamb, pork and beef.

When you’re cooking meat on a barbecue, make sure:

  • The coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking. This means they're hot enough.
  • Any frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it.
  • You turn the meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to cook it evenly.

Remember that meat is safe to eat only when:

  • It is piping hot in the centre. 
  • The meat is no longer pink.
  • Any meat juices have become clear.

"Don’t assume that because meat is charred [black or burned] on the outside it will be cooked properly on the inside," says the FSA spokesperson. "Cut into the meat to ensure none of it is pink inside."

Raw meat

Germs from raw meat can move easily on to your hands and then on to anything else you touch, including food that is cooked and ready to eat. This is called cross-contamination.

Cross-contamination can happen if raw meat touches anything (including plates, cutlery, tongs and chopping boards) that then comes into contact with other food.

Some easy steps to help prevent cross-contamination are: 

  • Wash your hands every time you've touched raw meat.
  • Use separate utensils (plates, tongs, containers) for cooked and raw meat.
  • Never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has had raw meat on it.
  • Keep raw meat in a sealed container away from foods that are ready to eat, e.g. salads and buns, 
  • Don’t put raw meat next to cooked or partly-cooked meat on the barbecue.
  • Don’t put sauce or marinade on cooked food if it has already been used with raw meat.

Keeping food cool

It’s also important to keep some foods cool to prevent food-poisoning germs multiplying.

Always keep the following foods cool: 

  • Salads.
  • Dips.
  • Milk, cream, yoghurt.
  • Desserts and cream cakes.
  • Sandwiches.
  • Ham and other cooked meats.
  • Cooked rice, including rice salads.

Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun.

See the Food Standards Agency's food safety campaign.

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