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Celebrate Summer: Essential Safety Tips for the Perfect BBQ Grill Out

Updated on July 27, 2018

How to stay safe at your next summer time picnic or barbeque

Grilling out or picnicking in the park can be a fun way to spend a lazy summer afternoon with the family. And, while summer time can be fun, there are many hazards you need to watch out for, from salmonella poisoning and food borne illnesses to sunburn and heat exhaustion.

Don't let your summer time celebration or BBQ turn into a nightmare.

For summer time fun you can enjoy with the entire family, follow these simple safety tips.

Safe Summer Grilling Advice from the USDA

Food safety tips to prevent salmonella and food borne illness

To keep your family safe at the Summer BBQ Cook out or Picnic you should always remember:

  • Clean your hands, dishes, work surface constantly during prep/cooking
  • Separate your meats. No cross contamination between pork, chicken, beef.
  • Cook meats to the proper internal temperature
  • Chill foods immediately after meal time.

These steps will help keep your outdoor or home BBQ a safe and fun event, free from food borne illness.

To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in your food, refrigerate all picnic foods containing eggs, meat or mayo until time to serve. If you're taking the food to a beach or park, stick the item in the refrigerator over night to chill ahead of time so it will be cold, then pack deep into an ice chest, surrounding the food with ice to maintain the chilled temperature. Better yet, purchase your foods already prepared from the local grocery store deli. Most times these delis will have an entire selection of meats, cheese, breads and even desserts that are perfect for picnics. They do the work and you get to enjoy the time off from cooking. Just be sure to stick all these perishables on ice the minute you get them back to the car. There's no better way to promote bacteria growth than putting perishables in a plastic bag in the trunk for the ride to the beach or park for your picnic.

Don't assume the grill cooking surface is clean when you're using a public grill that is available at a beach or park. Bring alluminum foil and wrap meats for the grill. If you want to 'grill' the meats, be sure to bring a cleanser for the grill and plenty of water to wash off the area before cooking.

Use a stiff wire brush and plenty of water to ensure a thoroughly clean area. Be sure the grill surface is very hot before adding meat or vegetables, since heat kills most bacteria.

Use disposable napkins and anti-bacterial spray to keep your cooking surface and work surface clean as you cut and prepare meats. Wipe hands with a disposable anti-bacterial wipe after handling meats and before food prep begins. And, never cross contaminate meats. Keep your meats separate. Never put raw vegetables on a surface that was just used to cut meats. To make it easy to keep down germs, bring along a roll of aluminum foil. That way you can roll out a slice, place your meat on top, cut or prepare, then discard the paper after use. You can do this for each part of your meal. It's just a lot easier than dealing with a cutting board on-site.

Using disposable plates at your BBQ picnic will provide a cleaner, more germ free experience. Better yet, purchase a brand new container of disposables just before the picnic and don't open until you get to your destination. If you are concerned about the environmental impact of disposables, use a brand such as Scott's naturals or CVS Earth's Essentials that incorporates recycled or natural materials into the plate/cup construction and then breaks down easily in landfills.

Always cook foods to the proper temperatures. You should always use a food thermometer. Beef burgers should be cooked to 160 degrees (internal temperature) while pork and chicken needs to be cooked to 165 degrees (internal temperature). To be safe, you will need to use a food thermometer. You can't simply tell by looking at the exterior of meat as to how well it's been done, because often meat chars more quickly from the outside leaving the meat underdone inside. Exposure to salmonella or even ecoli becomes a real risk if you are serving or eating raw, under-cooked meats. A good rule of thumb when cooking burgers is that if you see pink in the middle of the burger, you should keep cooking.

Don't forget the sanitary hand wipes and hand lotion. When kids are playing on the beach or sand, they're likely to pick up germs that can easily be put into the mouth while eating. Many times, cats and racoons use the sand or dirt area as their own personal litter box and that's where the kids pick up the germs. These bacteria can get into the body causing illness. Even worms can be contracted by exposure to dirt under the fingernails, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and encourage your children to do the same. Bring water and liquid soap to your BBQ or picnic for hand washing before meals and sanitary hand wipes for post meal to prevent germs from poultry or eggs from being spread to other areas. Some parks provide adequate sinks and liquid soap for washing hands before meals, others don't. So be prepared with your own supply. You can make your own hand spray by combining one tablespoon anti-bacterial dish detergent with 8 ounces of water in a spray bottle. Rinse well after use.

Refrigerate food immediately after meal time and don't leave anything sitting, buffet style on the table. Place in an ice chest with an ample supply of ice. Replace ice as it melts. Never leave food out for more than two hours. And, if temperatures exceed 90 degrees, refrigerate food within one hour of preparation. If you have a doubt about whether or not a food item is still good after it's been sitting out, toss it in the trash. It's so much easier to be safe rather than sorry.

Summer Food Safety, preventing food poisoning

Other ways to stay safe at your BBQ cookout or summer time picnic.

With active kids, cuts and scrapes are a fact of life, especially while at play. But, those cuts and scrapes can quickly become infected if not treated promptly. And, waiting till you get to the house to treat a cut may be just enough time for infection to set in. Pack a first aid kit in your trunk for minor treatable injuries. And, keep a tube of Bactine First Aid Liquid or other topical anti-bacterial cream close by just in case your kids get into some scrapes of their own. Don't forget the burn cream. At a cookout, where there are open flames, anything is possible. If an animal bite or bee sting occurs, go directly to the emergency room for proper medical treatment.

Allowing your children to walk barefoot on the playground, sand or beach might seem like fun, but it could also expose them to many hidden dangers. Often, broken glass and even disposable needles have been found in sand and dirt in these locations and can cause severe cuts, punctures as well as life threatening infections. Wearing summer flip flops or sandals is a good way to air out the feet while keeping them safe and clean.

Good dental hygiene is important even while out at your BBQ cookout. Tooth decay can start almost right away, especially if you are serving sweet foods, so protect your teeth by bringing along disposable toothbrushes, mouth wash and other dental care items that can remove plaque easily and quickly. This tip is especially important if you have children along for the day.

Remind your kids about stranger danger before arriving at your destination and remind them not to talk with or go off with strangers. Sometimes, it's hard for kids to know what a 'stranger' is. So simply telling your child not to talk with anyone much taller than themselves will give them an easy visual that makes it easy to remember. That still leaves room for your child to meet new friends. This is especially important for very young children. Just to be safe, monitor your kids in their interactions with others or assign another responsible adult to do the job while the cooking is being done. If you're really concerned over the situation, you might consider bringing precooked food from the local deli (such as chicken, potato salad, rolls, etc), that doesn't require cooking. That way most of your time can be spent with your family instead of slaving over the hot grill. And, you can more easily monitor your children in a crowded area.

While at the park or beach, your child is likely to come across a stray animal. And, most kids don't distinguish between a stray and a pet. Caution your children not to touch stray animals as doing so may result in scratches or bites. Many times, stray animals are not vaccinated against rabies and other common diseases that can easily be passed along to humans, especially children.

Inspect the bathroom toilet area before allowing your child to use the facility for safe working equipment. Give the toilet a quick flush to make sure that it doesn't over flow. Even if the toilet looks clean, you can't personally vouch for it's germ free state. Carry a small can of Lysol in your purse for a quick spray on the seat, back and base, allowing the spray to stand for at least ten minutes before first use. Toilet seat covers are another great way to prevent spread of contagious bacteria to your family.

Check to see if there are any other locked stall doors in the bathroom and if so, stay close by while your minor child is in the bathroom. The bathroom area is often seen as a favorite hiding spot for predators who wait in ambush. Just to be safe, accompany all minor children to the public restroom facilities and wait until they are done. The bathroom represents another opportunity to be germ free, so make liberal use of the liquid soap and water available at the sinks before leaving the bathroom, especially if you are going right back to the picnic table.

Flare ups: While cooking, be watchful of grease fire flare ups. Often, these flare ups can lead to burns on the hands and face if not properly dealt with. While some people suggest putting the lid on top of the fire, a safer option would be to use a portable fire extinguisher designed to extinguish camp fires. That way you won't have to get too close to the flames or risk injury. Just to be safe, keep your kids away from the grill and food prep area to avoid potential burns or cuts.

Pool safety: If there's a pool or open body of water at the BBQ site, be sure to instruct your children on water safety and provide appropriate adult supervision for all children playing in and around the water. Some kids will wait until the parent's back is turned before splashing into the water, even when told not to, so keep a watchful eye open, even as you're preparing the picnic table. If the kids are going into the water, be sure they are wearing the proper safety flotation devices if needed. While pool shoes might not be necessary in a clear swimming pool, proper footwear is especially important if you are entering a murky lake or other natural body of water where you can't see the bottom. Sharp tree branches or even broken glass might be lurking.

Dehydration risk and even heat stroke is especially common during the summer months when children are outdoors playing in the summer sun. Avoid being in the midday sun between 11 AM and 2 PM unless it's a cloudy day. It's especially easy to lose moisture when heavy sweating occurs and this can lead to extreme fatigue and dehydration, and possibly even heatstroke. Play it safe by hosting your barbecue in the earlier morning (before noon) or later afternoon when the sun is not directly overhead. Serve plain or chilled water or tea occasionally to keep your family hydrated. Cola or carbonated beverage may not be a proper way to maintain hydration since it contains caffeine, a known diuretic that can cause water loss in the body.

To protect your skin during your summer barbecue celebration or cook out, slather on the sun screen. Even on a cloudy day, harmful UV rays can damage  your skin setting you up for skin cancer later on.  Liberal application of sun screen every two to three hours (especially after sweating or water exposure) will ensure skin is safe from harmful UV rays that can potentially lead to skin damage. Wear appropriate summer time clothing that covers up skin whenever possible. Loose baggy cotton T-shirts and shorts will help keep the body covered and cool even during the worst heat, allowing air to circulate through the fabric and around the body to maintain a cool body temperature. A wide brimmed hat or baseball cap will shield the face and neck from sun's harmful rays. Don't forget sunscreen for babies.

And, one last tip for the perfect summer celebration.  Don't forget the mosquito spray or OFF cause mosquitoes won't forget about you!   Keep several lit citronella candles on your picnic table so picnickers can enjoy their meal without getting pestered by bugs.

Before you leave, be sure to gather up all remnants of your summer celebration and dispose of properly before heading home. 

Food Poisoning Prevention, How to grill safely in summer

How do you know when food has gone bad?

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© 2011 Beverly Johnson


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good tips!

    • profile image

      Kenny Montgomery 

      7 years ago

      There is nothing better in the summer time than a pool party and a back yard BBQ!


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