When the sun comes out in Britain, so too do the barbecues. We dust off our tools, stock up on sausages and invite the neighbours over for a burger and a beer. While this is of course a wonderful way to spend a sunny day – if food safety is ignored, your summer could be quickly ruined.
Research shows that cases of food poisoning double over the summer. This is because many harmful bacteria grow in warmer conditions and when precautions aren’t taken, undercooked meats and cross-contamination can lead to bugs like salmonella, E.coli and Campylobacter.
What are the risk factors when barbecuing?
Usually food poisoning is quite mild and you will feel better within a week. In some cases however, it can be quite severe – especially for older people, children and those with weakened immune systems.
To avoid this, here are the three main risk factors when it comes to barbecuing:
1. undercooked meat
3. exposure to harmful chemicals.
Raw or undercooked meat can contain bacteria that causes food poisoning. Normally these harmful germs are killed through the cooking process, but when meat is not properly cooked, they can survive.
Meats such as steak and joints of beef/lamb can be served pink in the middle – as long as the outside of the meat has been cooked properly. For all other meats however (like chicken, burgers and sausages) ensure the following happens:
- coals are glowing before you start to cook
- turn the meat regularly for even cooking
- ensure it is piping hot in the centre
- all juices run clear
- no pink meat is visible (cut at thickest point to check).
Cross-contamination happens when the bacteria from raw meat touches something (i.e. a chopping board) that then touches other food. This means the harmful bacteria is now on the other food and can cause food poisoning. To help avoid cross-contamination, do the following:
- wash your hands before and after handling meat
- use separate tools/boards for raw meat
- seal raw meat in a container away from other foods
- never wash raw poultry before cooking.
Exposure to harmful chemicals
Nutrition consultant Belle Amatt highlights an often overlooked element of barbecue food safety, which is exposing meats to potentially harmful chemicals from the high temperatures:
“Of course, high temperatures and exposed flames are central to the process of this outdoor cooking ritual, but unfortunately may result in the release of harmful chemicals from burning coals, smoke and dripping fat.”
To help avoid this, Belle has the following advice when cooking meat or fish on the barbecue:
- Cook smaller pieces – they cook more quickly and at lower temperatures.
- Place meat on the edge of the BBQ away from the main flames – this discourages charring, but check it is cooked through thoroughly.
- Choose leaner meat – less fat should reduce flames and therefore smoke.
- Turn meat frequently – enabling neither side the time to absorb or lose too much heat.
A quick BBQ recipe – campfire pan-fried white fish
Avoid charring fish by using a cooking grate and a pan. You will still gain the al fresco cooking and eating experience without the negative effects of barbecuing the fish. Add a dash of olive oil to the pan, heat the oil and add the fish fillets. Cod loins or haddock fillets would be a good choice.
Squeeze over lemon as the fish cooks. Turn regularly and when the meat is shiny and readily flakes, it is ready to eat. Serve with a tasty relish.
Pomegranate and herb relish (serves 4-5)
2 pomegranates, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 spring onion minced, 1 tablespoon lime juice, salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped, some finely chopped mint and parsley.
Remove the seeds from the pomegranates, mix together with the other ingredients in a bowl. Serve alongside the fish.
For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Katherine Nicholls:
Tel: 01276 301239