Pull out the Picnic Basket and Fire up the Grill!

| Posted On Jul 09, 2019 | By:

food on outdoor grillAs New Englanders, we have usually earned our summertime and make the most of the season by enjoying outdoor activities and outdoor meals bursting with summer’s freshest flavors. Over the next 2-3 months, many of us will try to cram in a busy social season with picnics, barbecues, and informal meals al fresco.

The summer does not need to be a time to abandon healthy principles, and in fact, many of us find that summer is an easier time to enjoy more vegetables and fruits. If you are interested in CSA’s, Lisa Ferreira’s informative blog offers some great tips on enjoying fresh produce of the season, all the while helping your local farming community by joining the Eat Local movement.

While summertime foods can certainly be healthy, our focus here is also to make sure your summer meals are safe and to prevent any food-related problems. Let’s look at three aspects of safe summer eating.

#1: Food Selection, Packing, and Storage

Try to pick the fruits and veggies with the fewest blemishes & bruises and that are in season for our area. Fresh produce can lose some nutrients if they came from miles away (or from another continent!) or their transit to your market was not under ideal conditions. The fewer miles a fruit or vegetable travels to your home, the more nutrients it will provide to you and your family.

Be prepared if you are going to a farmer’s market that requires a long drive back to your refrigerator. If you have a favorite farm stand that is many miles away, bring a cooler with you to store the most perishable produce, especially if the outside temperature (or the temperature in your car) is high. Remember that bacteria multiply much faster in warmer temperatures, and you want to do your best to discourage this.

When packing foods – especially meats but also produce – for a cookout, keep your cold food cold by using insulated coolers filled with ice packs or bags filled with ice cubes. Transport your cooler in the coolest part of your car. Finally, once you arrive at your destination, try to keep the cooler in a shady area if possible.

If you need to prepare foods outdoors (think camping), there are more challenges to consider:

#2: Health-Conscious Grilling

Transport and keep uncooked meats and poultry in separate containers from the rest of your foods. Be careful that none of the raw juices mix with any prepared foods or salads. Again, have a clean plate or dish to put the chicken or meat onto once your cooking is complete.

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society provide us with several reminders on healthy outdoor cooking.  To reduce your exposure to potential cancer-causing substances called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs), these are some guidelines for grilling over high temperatures:

  1. Start with a clean grill. Remove any charred food particles left on the grates before you cook your meats.
  2. Line the grill with foil and poke holes in the foil to allow the fats to drip away from the meat – but prevent flare-ups from reaching your meats
  3. Limit your red meat consumption to 12-18 ounces per week, and trim visible areas of fat before cooking. Grilled fish and chicken is a very tasty way to prepare these, so try to consume more of these. Or better yet, grill vegetables & fruits! When grilled, veggies, and fruits do not produce HCAs, and a plant-based diet has been associated with lower risks of many cancers.
  4. Marinate your meats, poultry or fish for at least 30 minutes. Preferred marinades contain an acidic liquid (e.g., vinegar, citrus juice or wine) and an oil. Vary the flavors of your marinade with herbs, spices, garlic, and fresh ginger.
  5. Never re-use any marinades that have been in contact with raw meats, poultry or fish unless you reheat them to a rolling boil.

Be mindful of the proper cooking temperatures of meats.  Test the internal temperature with an instant-read kitchen thermometer:

#3: When the Party’s Over

Eat foods within 2 hours of preparation or if you brought supermarket-prepared foods to your event. If your event takes place on a day when the temperature goes over 90 degrees, food should be put away after one hour.

For your health and the health of your guests, remember: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Looking for more information on food safety for the summer & other seasons?  Here are some good places to start:

Food Safety.govYour Gateway to Federal Food Safety Information

American Institute for Cancer Research: How to Grill for Lower Cancer Risk

American Cancer Society: How to Have a Happy, Healthy Summer

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About Carol Haladyna, RD

Carol Haladyna joined Atrius Health in 2002. She is board certified in nutrition and sees patients at Dedham Medical Dedham and Norwood. She is also a certified diabetes educator for both adult and pediatric patients.

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