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Taking it outside
From grills to fire pits, take care when entertaining out doors
new deh grill safety photo web
Grilling outdoors is great meal alternative, but caution must be taken. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

 Don’t let sickness ruin that barbecue


Cooking outdoors can be fun, but remember, grilling can sometimes lead to unwanted food poisoning.

Foodborne illnesses do increase during the summer, and the answer appears to be two-fold, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. First, there are the natural causes. Bacteria are present throughout the environment in soil, air, water, and in the bodies of people and animals. These microorganisms grow faster in the warm summer months. 

Second, outside activities increase. More people are cooking outside. The safety controls that a kitchen provides are usually not available.

This year, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning. Food poisoning can affect anyone who eats food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or other substances. 

Some groups of people – such as older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems – have a higher risk of getting sick from contaminated food. And if they do get sick, the effects of food poisoning are a lot more serious.

Here are some tips to be safe and cook like a PRO:

• P — place the thermometer

Think your food is ready? Make sure by checking the internal temperature. Find the thickest part of the meat (usually about 1.5 to 2 inches deep), and insert the thermometer. If you’re cooking a thinner piece of meat, like chicken breasts or hamburger patties, insert the thermometer from the side. Make sure that the probe reaches the center of the meat.

• R — read the temperature

Wait about 10 to 20 seconds for an accurate temperature reading. Use the following safe internal temperature guidelines for your meat and poultry.

beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a three-minute rest time

Ground meats: 160 °F

Whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry: 165 °F

• O — off the grill

Once the meat and poultry reach their safe minimum internal temperatures, take the food off the grill and place it on a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Also remember to clean your food thermometer probe with hot, soapy water or disposable wipes.

What about smoking the meat? This is cooking food indirectly in the presence of a fire. It can be done in a covered grill if a pan of water is placed beneath the meat or poultry on the grill; and meats can be smoked in a “smoker,” which is an outdoor cooker especially designed for smoking foods. 

Smoking is done much more slowly than grilling, so less tender meats benefit from this method, and a natural smoke flavoring permeates the meat. The temperature in the smoker should be maintained at 250 to 300 °F for safety.

Summer is here and people will be itching to start cooking outside. But, Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano warns what normally is a relaxing meal on the deck could be dangerous if caution is not taken.

“We just want everyone to be careful and enjoy the holiday,” Napolitano said. He offered these suggestions.

1. Propane and charcoal grills should only be used outdoors.

2. The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

3. Keep children and pets away from the grill area.

4. Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.

5. Never leave your grill unattended.

Napolitano also advised those with propane grills to make sure the canisters are attached correctly, the hoses are in good shape and the grill is working order.

Then, after the meal, the party may continue in the backyard.

Fire pits are a fantastic addition. They are attractive, inexpensive to use and help to extend the use of your yard. 

But Kevin Doel, public information manager with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said when you use a fire pit you are literally playing with fire. 

Careless misuse could not only set your own house ablaze, but also could spark a grass fire and endanger others nearby.

Positioning your fire pit

Whether you are using a portable fire pit or planning to install a permanent one, positioning is key to safety:

• Make sure the fire pit is, at minimum, 10 feet away from any structure or neighboring yard—25 feet is preferable.

• Do not position a fire pit under a covered porch or low hanging tree branches.

• Always place a fire pit on a non-flammable surface, such as patio blocks or concrete.

• Do not put a fire pit on a wooden deck or directly on grass.

Preparing your fire pit

• Clear all flammable materials away from your fire pit before using it. Five feet is a good distance. This “break” in vegetation will help prevent an escaped fire from spreading.

• Piling dirt or rocks around the pit will also help prevent any fire on the ground from escaping.

• The fire pit should be at least 6 inches deep at the center and two feet across, to help keep the embers and flames contained.

Lighting your fire pit

• Always check wind direction before you light a fire and remove anything flammable downwind of the pit.

• If it is too windy, do not light your fire pit.

• Do not use lighter fluid to light a fire pit; instead, a commercial fire starter stick with kindling on top is ideal.

• Do not use any flammable fluids (gasoline, lighter fluid, etc.) to light or relight fires.