Many Canadians love to barbecue all year round, but especially when the weather starts to get warm. As with any type of cooking, it’s important to follow safe food handling guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from spreading and causing foodborne illness.
At the store
When you’re at the grocery store, buy cold food at the end of your shopping. Raw meat may contain harmful bacteria and so it is important that it be kept separate from other grocery items to avoid cross-contamination. You can put packages of raw meat in separate plastic bags to keep meat juices from leaking onto other foods. Always refrigerate perishable foods within one to two hours, especially in warm weather. For longer transport times, consider bringing along an insulated cooler to hold your perishables.
Storing raw meat
- In the refrigerator: At home, store raw meat in the refrigerator immediately after you return from the grocery store. Freeze raw poultry or ground beef that won’t be used within one to two days. Freeze other raw meats if they won’t be used within four to five days. Marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If you want to save some of the marinade to baste cooked meat or use as a dipping sauce, make sure to set some aside in the refrigerator that hasn’t touched uncooked meat. Don’t use leftover marinade that has been in contact with raw meat on cooked food.
- In the cooler: If you are storing your meat in a cooler before barbecuing, make sure that the cooler is kept cold with ice packs. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight and avoid opening it too often, because it lets cold air out and warm air in. Ensure that your meat products are well sealed and that ice water doesn’t come in contact with stored meat products. This can lead to cross-contamination with others items in the cooler. You may also want to use two coolers, one for drinks (as it may get opened more often) and another one for food.
Whether you are storing the meat in the refrigerator or a cooler, always remember to keep food out of the temperature danger zone of 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). Bacteria can grow in this temperature range. In as little as two hours in this range, your food can become dangerous.
To avoid potential cross-contamination and the risk of foodborne illness, follow these steps:
- Make sure to keep raw meat away from other foods, including vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes. You can do this by packing meats separately or by making sure they are wrapped separately, so that juices don’t leak out onto other foods.
- Use separate utensils, cutting boards, dishes and other cooking equipment when handling raw and cooked meats. For example, do not place cooked meat on the same plate used to bring the raw meat to the BBQ. Raw juices can spread bacteria to your safely-cooked food and cause foodborne illness.
- Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat.
- Clean all your cooking equipment, utensils and work surfaces, and then sanitize them with a mild bleach solution.
Plan ahead. Thawing of meats should be done in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Sealed packages can be thawed in cold water. Microwave defrosting is acceptable if the food item is placed immediately on the grill. Meat should be completely thawed before grilling so that it cooks more evenly.
Cook thoroughly and use a digital food thermometer
Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter are killed by heat. Raw meat must be cooked properly to a safe internal temperature (see chart below) to avoid foodborne illness. Colour alone is not a reliable indicator that meat is safe to eat. Meat can turn brown before all the bacteria are killed, so use a digital food thermometer to be sure.
To check the temperature of meat that you are cooking on the barbecue, take it off the grill and place it in a clean plate. Insert the digital food thermometer through the thickest part of the meat. For hamburgers, you should insert the digital food thermometer through the side of the patty, all the way to the middle. Make sure to check each piece of meat or patty because heat can be uneven.
Remember to always clean your digital food thermometer in warm, soapy water between temperature readings to avoid cross-contamination.
Keep hot food hot
Remember to keep hot food hot until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, not directly over coals where they can overcook.
Use a clean plate when taking food off the grill. Remember not to put cooked food on the same plate that held raw meat. This prevents it from being re-contaminated by raw juices.
Cool food by using shallow containers, so that it cools quickly. Discard any food left out for more than two hours. On hot summer days, don’t keep food at room temperature for more than one hour. Remember to keep food out of the temperature danger zone of 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). When in doubt, throw it out!
The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada’s requirements.