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Toi Degree column: Keep foods safe when grilling

By Toi Degree
N.C. Cooperative Extension

We are in the midst of summer, which means grilling season. Surprisingly enough, July is Grilling Month. So, I want to share some tips to get you grilling like a pro and practicing important food safety rules — clean, separate, cook and chill. I am going to help you make grilling easy from beginning to end.

Shopping day

When shopping, be sure to place perishable foods in your basket last to reduce the time they sit at room temperature. Separate raw meat and poultry from other foods in your shopping cart, and put those foods into a plastic bag to reduce the risk of meat juices dripping onto your other groceries causing cross-contamination. When the cashier is bagging the groceries, make sure your raw meat and poultry are in a separate bag.

Plan to return home soon after grocery shopping, and store perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible. If you are unable to get those groceries refrigerated within two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees, place them in a cooler with ice to keep raw meats, poultry, and other perishable items safe until you can get them home and into a refrigerator. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in one or two days, and freeze other meat within four to five days.


Marinating is a quick and easy way to further flavor food items and tenderize tougher cuts of meat. Marinate food in a refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed/stewed meat can be marinated for up to two days. Beef, veal, pork, lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to five days. If the marinade is going to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve some before putting raw meat and poultry in it. Or if it is used on raw meat or poultry, make sure to bring the marinade to a boil before using it on cooked food to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Clean, separate, cook, chill

Clean: Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. Be sure all cooking utensils, surfaces, cutting boards, etc. are cleaned with warm, soapy water before being used.

Separate: To prevent foodborne illness, do not use the same plate/platter or utensils for raw and cooked meats. Also, do not use the same cutting board for raw meats and other food items such as fruits or vegetables without cleaning with warm, soapy water.

Cook: Keep raw meats and poultry separate from other foods so that the meat juices don’t leak onto the foods and cause cross-contamination and possible foodborne illnesses. Cook foods to their respective temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria. The best way to test temperature is to use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb, veal, chops, and roasts to a minimum temperature of 145 degrees. For all raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal, the internal temperature should be 160 degrees. Cook all poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.

Chill: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If food is going to be sitting out for more than two hours, or one hour on a day with temperatures over 90 degrees, be sure to keep cold items cold with ice or a cooler and keep hot foods hot with some type of food warmer. This will prevent foods from reaching the “danger zone” of 41-140 degrees, which is where bacteria like to grow. Keep meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they can overcook. At home, the cooked meat could be kept hot in an oven set at 200 degrees, in a slow cooker or on a warming tray. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours, and be sure to eat the leftovers within four days.

Here is a link to help you make tastier and safer food, prevent waste and save money: https://food.unl.edu/meat-preparation

Safe minimum cooking temperature chart:  https://food.unl.edu/meat-preparation

Store it, don’t ignore it!  https://food.unl.edu/documents/storeitchart.pdf

Barbecue and food safety:  https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Barbecue_Food_Safety.pdf?redirecthttp=true

For the most current information on our programs, like and follow us on Facebook at Rowan County Cooperative Extension and you can also visit our website at https://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu/.

Toi N. Degree is family and consumer education agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Contact her at 704-216-8970 or toi_degree@ncsu.edu .

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