Even if the weather doesn’t always permit it, the British love a barbecue in summer.
But in the rush to deliver sausages, burgers, and other delicious treats to your guests, you could make some crucial mistakes when preparing your meal.
Some of these are simple, like not washing your hands or leaving food out a little too long.
But you run the risk of making your guests sick.
The Sun spoke to Food Hygiene, Health and Safety Advisor Sylvia Anderson about what to consider when hosting a summer barbecue.
1. Being impatient with the coals
A big mistake many grillers make is not letting the charcoal heat up long enough, Sylvia said.
The coals need to be glowing red and have a gray, ash-like finish before you load your grill with high-risk meats like chicken, sausages and burgers, the food safety adviser stressed.
But she said people make the mistake of putting their food inside when the coals are still burning.
“So what happens is they try to cook the chicken, but it’s essentially smoke,” Sylvia continued.
In this case, it often happens that the meat burns on the outside, but when you take it off the stove and cut it inside, it turns pink.
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“It leads to food poisoning,” says Sylvia.
With charcoal grills, it can be difficult to keep the heat even throughout the grill, so Sylvia recommends turning and stirring the meat regularly to ensure even cooking.
Food can also take longer to heat up and cook with disposable grills, she added.
2. Undercooking your “dangerous three”.
Even if you heat the coals properly, many people may not know how long to cook their meat, the food safety expert said.
When it comes to meat, the “dangerous three” are chicken, sausage and burgers, Sylvia noted.
In steaks, the E. coli bacteria are on the outside. So if you burn them on all sides, you kill them, and that’s why you can rarely eat them without getting sick, she explained.
However, since the meat for sausages and burgers is shredded, the bacteria are everywhere.
In chickens, the germs are in the muscle and are therefore found throughout the meat.
This means they all need to be thoroughly cooked for the meat to be safe to eat.
She recommended always checking the packaging of the meat you bought as it tells you how long it needs to cook.
But a rough estimate is 15 to 25 minutes on the grill, depending on how thick the piece is, Sylvia said.
And always check if the center is pink before you eat it or serve it to your guests – it always takes the longest for the heat to reach the center of a piece.
She noticed that bone-in chickens always take longer.
You can also solve the undercooking problem by par-cooking your meat and finishing it on the grill, or searing it on the coals and then putting it in the oven.
“Most people won’t have a probe at home,” Sylvia said, but she recommended getting one if you plan on playing the grill host.
You can get a meat thermometer from Amazon for as little as £5.99.
If you have one on hand, check to see if your burgers and sausages have reached 75°C – this way you can see they’re fully cooked through.
They also need to be steaming hot inside.
3. Not washing hands
This seems like a pretty basic tip, but many people forget to wash their hands regularly after handling food.
“Always wash your hands before you start cooking and wash your hands when you touch raw and cooked produce,” advises Sylvia.
4. Contamination of cooked products
An easy mistake is to carry raw meat to the grill on a plate and place it on top after cooking.
You can make the same mistake with pliers.
“Make sure you use different tongs — you should have tongs for raw food and tongs for cooked food,” Sylvia said.
Everything that is on the grill for raw food must not be used again for cooking.”
5. Missing food for too long
According to Sylvia, “warm food has a window”.
You can leave it for up to two hours after cooking.
Meanwhile, “there can be a four-hour window for cold foods before they can potentially cause food poisoning.”
Once that window is up, it’s best to throw away your food or you risk getting food poisoning – so make sure your guests are hungry and you’ve planned the quantities well!
According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), there are 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness each year, and the risk increases in the summer when the warm weather encourages bacterial growth.
According to the FSA, you can help minimize the risk of spreading germs by:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after cooking and eating – This is especially important if you have handled raw meat or firelighters
- Store food covered and refrigerated until ready to cook on the grill
- Keep utensils and serving dishes clean when preparing food – Make sure you do not mix the utensils used to prepare raw and ready-to-eat dishes. For example, use different cutting boards for raw meat and vegetables or fruit, or wash the same board between uses
- Never wash raw chicken or other meat – Washing raw meat risks spreading germs on your hands, utensils and countertops
If you also have your grill in your garden all year round, you should also inspect and thoroughly clean it before using it.
Keep in mind that frozen meat may not cook as well on the grill.
It’s best to plan ahead and thaw the meat in the fridge overnight. You can also use the microwave oven in the defrost function to fully defrost the food. In this case, however, you should cook and consume them within 24 hours.