July 2, 2014

Vanderbilt experts offer tips for safe grilling

by Trisha Pasricha

As the weather becomes even warmer and a long July 4th holiday weekend approaches, many outdoor cooking enthusiasts will pull their grills from winter hibernation.

Some will be sorry they did.

While most people use their grills to prepare delicious food without incident, according to the Tennessee Fire Incident Reporting System, the state has averaged 30 fire incidents involving open-fired grills per year for the past five years.

“Some of the most common safety mistakes people make are not carefully lifting an already hot closed grill cover, or touching a 500-plus degree surface when not paying attention,” said Corey Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and medical director of the Metro Nashville Fire Department.

The heat from the grill can also pose a hazard for curious children or pets, or even for people wearing loose-fitting clothing who get too close to the flames or embers.

And, Slovis added, “Never put your face down to look at what’s wrong unless the gas has been off for 10-20 seconds.”

Grilling safety also extends to the food being cooked. Foodborne illnesses can result from raw or undercooked meat and food cross-contamination.

“Cross-contamination can occur if you cut raw meat on the same cutting board as vegetables,” explained Jessica Bennett, a registered dietitian at VUMC.

“Make sure to use separate cutting knives and utensils when handling meats to prevent the spread of illness,” she added.

This season, make your cookout a memorable occasion for the right reasons with these grill safety tips:

  • Use propane and charcoal grills outdoors only.
  • Always ensure proper ventilation when grilling.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
  • Beware of loose clothes and hair than can blow into the wind and flames.
  • If the grill does not light, turn off the gas before re-trying.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • Keep your grill and trays clean by removing grease build-up, which can catch fire.
  • Call 911 or visit the emergency department if a burn occurs with blistering or severe pain.
  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot with separate coolers for drinks.
  • Use separate utensils when handling raw meats.