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Food Speak / Tips for safe, healthful outdoor grilling

Published 5:23 pm, Thursday, June 12, 2014
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With the official start of summer right around the corner, now's a good time to review some important nutrition tips for a safe and healthy outdoor grilling season.

When planning your next backyard barbeque menu, skip the high-fat burgers and hotdogs for leaner protein choices like fish, chicken and vegetarian burgers. Leave enough room on the grill for a wide variety of produce like peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini and eggplant. Grilling brings out a sweet, caramelized flavor in vegetables. Grilling fruits like peaches or pineapple provides a naturally sweet dessert that looks fancy, too.

Use marinades on grilled foods for both flavor and to reduce cancer risk. When proteins in meat, chicken and fish are cooked at searing temperatures, cancer-causing compounds form, especially when meat is charred. Studies show that marinating meat before grilling can substantially decrease the formation of carcinogens by forming a protective barrier between the meat and the heat of the grill. You can also prevent meat from charring by flipping it frequently, cooking it over lower temperatures and cooking to the outside of flames. Choosing lean cuts of meat and trimming excess fat from meat also is a good idea to create less charring from the flare-ups meat drippings cause.

Beware of cross-contamination when using marinades. Illness-causing bacteria from a marinade used on raw food can easily spread when that same marinade is used on cooked foods. Re-use marinade only if you bring it to a boil. To make life a lot easier, set aside some marinade strictly for cooked foods. Another important means of preventing cross-contamination is to use separate plates and utensils to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from grilled, ready-to-eat foods. Harmful bacteria from raw meat (or on tongs, spatulas and brushes used during grilling) can contaminate cooked food and cause food poisoning.

Don't try to guess when meat, poultry and seafood are done. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness; only an instant-read food thermometer can guarantee a safe minimum internal temperature. Rest assured that harmful bacteria has been killed when your thermometer reads: 160 degrees for burgers, 165 degrees for chicken, 160 degrees for beef cooked medium, 145 degrees for medium rare beef and 145 degrees for fish. For a handy listing of safe internal temperatures, use "Is My Food Safe?," a free food safety app created to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Each time the barbeque winds down, it's important to clean your grill grate with a long-handled, stiff wire brush in order to keep away any harmful bacteria and carcinogens that may be left on the grate. This is easiest to do when the grill is still warm.

When putting away leftovers, remember that grilled foods have a refrigerator life of three to four days. Toss any perishable foods that were left out of refrigeration in hot temperatures (90 degrees or higher) for more than an hour.

Courtney Sansonetti is a medical nutrition therapist and certified diabetes educator for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. Her Food Speak column appears monthly. Email your questions to: c.sansonetti@rehabassocinc.com.