Summer - barbecue basics
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy a barbecue with family and friends, but you need to ensure that food is stored and cooked safely.
Warm weather and outdoor cooking can produce the right conditions for the bacteria which cause food poisoning.
If cooking only on the barbecue, the two main risk factors are undercooked meat and spreading germs from raw meat onto 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, campylobacter and listeria.
So it's vital you remember the 4C's of food hygiene:
Chilling food properly helps stop harmful bacteria from growing, especially in the warm summer months.
Make sure you keep the following foods cool:
- milk, cream, yoghurt
- cooked meats
Always keep raw meats cold and don't leave cooked foods and salads lying out in the sun for more than two hours.
When transporting items, use cool bags and boxes packed with enough ice/coolant to keep foods chilled (use separate containers for uncooked meat)
Cooking food at the right temperature and for the correct length of time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Meat such as mince, sausages, chicken and pork is safe to eat only when:
- it is piping hot in the centre
- there is no pink meat visible
- any juices are clear
Some meat, such as steaks and joints of beef or lamb, can be served rare (not cooked in the middle) as long as the outside has been properly cooked. This will kill any bacteria that might be on the outside of the meat.
Remember that a burger is not like a steak. Burgers should always be served well done, they should not be served rare or pink. This is because when meat is minced to produce burgers, any harmful bacteria from the surface of the raw meat spread throughout the burger. Unless the burger is cooked right through, these bacteria can remain alive on the inside. This applies equally to all meat that is minced, including good quality or expensive meat.
Help minimise the risk of germs spreading by:
- washing hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before cooking and eating, especially if you've been handling raw meat or things like firelighters
- keeping utensils and serving dishes clean when preparing food and ensuring you don't mix those used to prepare raw and ready-to-eat dishes
- never washing raw chicken or any other meat - it just splashes germs onto your hands, utensils and worktops
Germs from raw meat can move easily onto your hands and then anything else you touch, including food that is cooked and ready to eat. This is called 'cross-contamination'.
Barbecues are often the scene of cross-contamination. When raw meat juices mix with cooked or ready-to-eat food this can lead to food poisoning.
- One of the most common food handling mistakes involves people putting cooked chicken or meat back on the same plate that contains raw juices so be sure you have plenty of clean utensils and platters.
- Do not pour liquid that has been used to marinade raw meat or poultry on to cooked meats.
- Store uncooked food and ready-to-eat foods in separate sealed containers and keep them cold during transport to the barbecue.
- Always wash your hands after touching raw meat.
- Use separate utensils (plates, tongs and containers) for cooked and raw meat.
Barbecuing in a safe environment
Make sure your barbecue is steady on a level surface, away from plants and trees.
Use only recognised firelighters or starter fuel, and then only on cold coals - never use petrol on a barbecue.
Ensure that your barbecue is serviced and maintained correctly including scheduled pressure testing of any gas cylinders and checking of the condition of all hoses and connections.
Carry out a check of the cylinder for rust or damage, and ensure any connections are correctly tightened on gas barbecues before lighting.
Have a garden hose or similar continuous supply of water available at all times.
Only use a barbecue in a well ventilated area as fumes and gases emitted may be harmful.