Learn The Basics Of Food Safety Before You Fire Up Your Next BBQ

One of my favorite summer activities has to be grilling.

Getting your friends and family together, cooking outdoors - just like we’re supposed to.

Long winters have us begging for those warm, summer afternoons - lighting the grill and drinking a few beers with the guys. Then arguing about who can make the best burger. What if it wasn’t only burgers, though?

You can cook anything on a grill, from pizza to desserts, and more. Usually though, the most essential part of grilling is the meat

Burgers, sausage, chicken, maybe some shrimp. It’s a necessity for most grill fanatics.

Uncooked meat and produce are hosts to a variety of bacteria, though. So how do you make sure you’re keeping everyone safe?

Food Safety 101

The last thing you want is people calling you the day after your grill fest, telling you they’ve spend the night beside the toilet.

Being cautious of how and where you store the food, cooked and uncooked, is key to making sure no one gets sick.

Keep Everything Separate

Food And Drinks In Cooler

What are some of the essentials to a great BBQ?

Generally speaking, food and drinks are the two main categories. Coolers are the best place to store both drinks and uncooked meats.

Combining them is a huge “no-no” due to the potential for cross contamination. Investing in several coolers is best. Then you will have one for your drinks, one for uncooked meats and maybe one for fruits and vegetables.

If you don’t have multiple coolers, you can also securely wrap the uncooked meats in plastic bags and keep them at the bottom of the cooler.

You need to make sure that no-one uses any plates or utensils that were previously in contact with uncooked meat. A good way to fix this problem is by using disposable paper plates. Just get a big packet and keep them within reach.

Keep Foods At Their Proper Temperature

Different bacterias thrive at different temperatures. For this reason, you can’t leave uncooked meat out in the heat. The same goes for raw vegetables.

After cooking the meat, make sure you keep it heated.

This will ensure the flavor stays around and will also help keep away unwanted bacteria.Keeping the food at the right temperature before serving is important as well.

A good way to make sure the cooked food stays around the correct temperature is to serve it right away. Alternatively, if it needs to ‘rest’ before serving, cover it with foil and keep it close to the warm grill. The foil will then keep the heat in without overcooking the food.

Cold food should be kept in coolers until it’s time to cook. Always separate meats and vegetables. The cooler should be kept out of the sun and away from the grill. Try to avoid opening the lid too often as to not let any of that cold air go to waste.

Ensure Food Is Cooked Thoroughly

It makes sense to avoid eating undercooked meat, of course.

Most bacteria thrives in such an environment. Cooking the meat thoroughly will likely kill common bacteria, such salmonella and e.coli.

Depending on which grill you have, cooking times can be unpredictable.

Having a meat thermometer handy is the best way to check if the meat is cooked thoroughly. You can refer to this chart to learn more about safe, internal temperatures for different meats.

Giving the meat time to rest after cooking is also important. Doing so will help seal the juices in and finish up the job. A safe way to do this is by wrapping it in foil - keeping everything together.

What Is Partial Cooking and Is It Necessary?

Partial Cooking In Pan

Partial cooking is a popular method of precooking the food before actually putting it on the grill. Some people choose to do this to further ensure the meat and produce are fully cooked. But is it necessary?

If you are confident in this area and can easily tell if food is fully cooked, then no - it’s not necessary. But if you’re an inexperienced grill man and unsure of your food safety skills, partial cooking could help lower that pre-party stress.

You can pre-cook any produce in the microwave, oven or in the pan. The important thing to remember is to finish the cooking process right away.

You can’t leave partially- cooked meat for an hour and then expect to finish it off later. While partial cooking does require organization on your part, it might make for a smoother - and safer - process in the long run.

Wash Your Hands Often

If you are the head grill master, make sure to keep your hands clean.

This is probably one of the most important things when it comes to handling raw meat. You might think this is a given but it’s often easy to forget.

It’s recommended that you wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. You should do this before and after touching any produce.

If you are out camping, or far away from a water tap, make sure to bring water and soap - always drying off properly. You can also use hand sanitizer for emergency situations but don’t fully substitute the traditional method for this.

Grill Cleaning Tips

Before lighting the grill, look for any foreign objects that do not belong on or around the grill. This could be dirt or old fat from previous foods. Bristles from a grill-cleaning brush are also a common element found hanging around.

Everything should be removed and wiped clean. Harmful bacteria is not only found in foods. Dirt and dust also contain a good amount of it.

If your grill is stored outside, make sure it’s covered.

But even so, it should still be cleaned before use. You don’t want any uninvited parasites passing through.

Bacteria Basics

Now that we’ve gone over some basics of food safety, let’s look at the common bacterias we’re up against when cooking.

Bacteria can spread easily and you don’t want everyone to go home with food poisoning. Becoming knowledgeable about the most common bacteria types will leave you feeling more confident about food safety.

Below is a list of those likely to be found on raw meat:

E. Coli

Escherichia coli is a common form of bacteria that you can find in many environments and on a variety of food items.

It’s also a normal, healthy bacteria found in human and some animal intestines. But there are certain strains of e.coli that are dangerous. These are pathogenic.

Pathogenic bacteria can commonly cause an array of illnesses, including diarrhea. In extreme cases, this bacteria can cause pneumonia and respiratory illness.

The dangerous pathogenic e.coli is usually transmitted through food or water. But we can also become infected through contact with different animals - or from people carrying the bacteria.


Salmonella Bacteria

Salmonella is one of the most heard-of strains of bacteria when it comes to raw meat.

Chicken in particular has high levels of salmonella.

It’s one of the most dangerous bacteria, causing an estimated 1.2 million illnesses and 23,000 hospitalizations per year.

Within 12 to 72 hours after infection, the symptoms will appear, including stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever. It could last up to seven days but the illness usually dissipates on its own.

Children and the elderly are especially at risk when it comes to salmonella. Young children below the age of five years are the most affected age group. This is due to their undeveloped immune systems.


Also known as listeria, this bacteria is found in dairy, certain fruits and other produce. It’s also found in lunch meats and soft cheeses. It’s estimated that listeria causes around 260 deaths a year.

Listeria infections can cause diarrhea, fever and muscle aches. However, infected individuals sometimes won’t even notice it and the bacteria will go away on its own.

The best way to prevent listeria is by cleaning raw vegetables and salads thoroughly. And make sure to cook those hot dogs all the way through.


The word parasite is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine.

The risk of becoming the host of disease-carrying parasites is no joke.

Animals such as cows, pigs and sheeps are often hosts to a variety of different parasites. While the animal might not feel any discomfort, if the parasite spreads, we will definitely feel a difference.

The most common parasites transmitted through food in America are:

  • Cryptosporidium: causes diarrhea. Can survive for long outside of host
  • Giardia intestinalis: causes giardiasis, a form of diarrheal illness. Generally spread through feces
  • Cyclospora cayetanensis: cyclosporiasis is an intestinal disease caused by this bacteria
  • Toxoplasma gondii: is the leading cause of death caused by food transmitted illnesses

These parasites are most often spread through food or water contaminated by animal feces. This is why it’s vital to remove all dirt from any produce.

If you want to eat anything raw, like a carrot for example, it’s a good idea to peel it first. 

The Ins and Outs of Safe Marination

Marinated Meat

Marinating meat before grilling it is the best way to obtain lots of flavor. 

You typically mix your desired sauce, pour it over the meat, then give it a good rub and massage. Cover it and store in the refrigerator for up to eight hours.

Marinating meat is a good way of adding flavors to the food, without that flavor taking over. It will soak into the meat, leaving a nice taste that compliments the specific meat you’re cooking.

While marination is one of the most popular methods of preparing grilled foods, it’s also one of the things that can cause the most damage if not done correctly.

Some people like to use the marinade to lightly coat the meat while cooking. Some even use it as a sauce when serving. But be aware that this could be a fatal mistake.

After you remove the meat from the marinade, proper disposal of the sauce is vital - as that portion of the sauce is now filled with bacteria from the raw meat.

If you use the same marinade to pour over the meat again while it’s cooking, or when serving, you’re only adding bacteria.

A good way to fix this is by making extra marinade. Keep a quarter of it on the side - separate from the meat. Then you can use this while cooking, or as a serving sauce.

Last-Minute Tips

Before you get on with grilling your food, you’ll first have to shop for the things you need - then transport all supplies to your grilling area.

Here are a few, last-minute tips on how to keep safe from the time you pick up produce to when you put it on the grill.

  • Tip 1: when gathering everything you need from the grocery store, make sure you collect the meat right before checking out. This will keep the meats fresh and cool. You should also separate meat from other groceries to prevent any contamination
  • Tip 2: pack the produce carefully. You don’t want to arrive to the grilling site to find a pool of blood in your cooler. Wrapping everything up before packing is key. As mentioned above, it’s good to have several coolers
  • Tip 3: while driving with your uncooked produce, do your best to avoid using the trunk for storage space. The interior of the car is typically much cooler, which will also help keep your produce crisp - not wilted
Friends BBQ


Summer time is the best time for outdoor cooking - with the warm nights, relaxed vibe and late sunsets. 

Whether you’re having a backyard party or going camping, cooking and eating outdoors is an experience almost everyone enjoys.

Always keep in mind these safety tips listed above. If it’s too much to remember, you can make yourself a simple checklist to ensure you’ve covered all bases.

Now that you’re armed with all you need to know about food safety and grilling, what are you waiting for? Call your guests and enjoy your party, stress-free and on a full belly.




About the Author William Clay

William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.