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Don’t let the grill make you ill

SIMCOE, ON, JULY 16, 2010 – Barbecue season is in full swing and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit would like to remind people of the steps they can take to avoid food borne illness caused by bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.

An estimated 11 million Canadians suffer from a food-related illness every year, most of which are easily preventable. However, food borne illnesses can be avoided by storing, handling and preparing raw meat carefully.

“Raw meat should be the last item purchased at the grocery store before leaving, and must be refrigerated within one to two hours, especially in warm weather,” said Kris Lutzi, Acting Program Coordinator for the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Healthy Environment Team. “If ground beef or ground poultry will not be used within one to two days it should be frozen. Steaks, chops and cuts of poultry should be frozen within two to three days if not used.”

Keep raw meats away from other foods, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and buns to avoid cross-contamination. Wash all dishes and work surfaces that come in contact with the raw meat, as well as your hands, before touching other foods or utensils, and be sure to use a clean plate when removing food from the grill. Never put cooked food back on the plate that held the raw meat.

Marinating is a great way to add flavour and tenderize steaks and other meats, but let the meat marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If meat is stored in a cooler before barbecuing, there needs to be plenty of ice packs in the cooler to ensure it stays cold. Using a separate cooler for food and drinks is also a good idea, as opening and closing a cooler too often will let the cold air out and warm air in.

Meats, mayonnaise-based salads and other high-risk foods common at barbecues need to be kept at a temperature below 4 degrees Celsius. The temperature range between 4 and 60 degrees Celsius is considered the danger zone; hazardous foods stored within this temperature range are ideal for bacterial growth. Ensuring that meats are heated to a safe internal temperature before eating them is also vital in preventing food-related illnesses.

“Using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meats is the only safe way to ensure they are properly cooked,” said Lutzi. “Meat can turn brown before all the bacteria are killed, so relying on the colour of the meat is not a reliable way to determine if the meat is safe to be eaten.”

Meat should be removed from the grill and placed on a clean plate before checking the temperature. Be sure to insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, and check all pieces of meat because the barbecues heat can be uneven. For hamburgers, insert the thermometers in the side of the patty, all the way to the middle. A list of minimum internal temperatures for various types of meats and dishes can be found on the Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org.

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Media contact:
Kris Lutzi
Acting Program Coordinator
Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3261 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623