Welcome to Willow Science - BBQ safety

April 13th, 2015

Hello, I think I’m really going to enjoy this opportunity as a science writer as helping people learn all about germs and the diseases they cause is what really excites me, and, to be honest, was the main reason I chose to study microbiology in the first place. As a subject, it gives you everything - slime, fungus, and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction at being able to study and understand something that you can’t even see with the naked eye.
However, in my quest to bring diseases to you, I’ve already had to overcome much adversity; in this, my very first post, I was really pushed to the limit. You see I, like most people, love a good barbecue… and staring at pictures of perfectly cooked burgers, chicken wings, and sausages, fresh from the grill, all in the name of research… OMG - back in a mo!
Hmm, that’s better, now, where was I?
Yes, barbecues are a staple part of the long British summer - a chance to get together with family, friends, their pets, whilst also, becoming reacquainted with the ‘natural world’ after your recent winter hibernation.
However, in the ensuing chaos of dodging wasps, scraping ants from your legs, and keeping the kids out of the pond, one should never forget the importance of food safety at these occasions - remember, focus, because if you don’t, you could end up with Salmonella, or some other nasty little bug that could well cause food poisoning - which is a big deal, as its symptoms can be pretty gruesome and could end up lasting for days - with most of the ‘action’ revolving around diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach pains which come about, usually, as a result of toxins produced by the offending microbe.
So, you want to try and avoid all of this nonsense - and where better to go for advice than to the Food Standards Agency (a bunch of folks who know all about food… and safety), where basically, what they’re saying about handling meat at a barbecue is to:

(1) Try to pre-cook all your meat in the oven - then whack it on the barbecue to give it that smoky taste you’re after. Yum!

(2) OK, so it may look charred and frazzled on the outside, but this doesn’t always mean your meat is cooked thoroughly on the inside, therefore, to make sure, simply cut into it and check that there are no pink bits, it’s piping hot, and that the juices are running clear. Remember - be a hero - if in doubt - cook it a little longer!

(3) Beware of portable barbecues - oh, not cos they’ll have your eye out or anything else dodgy like that (well, not under normal circumstances they won’t), it’s just that they take a little longer to cook your food. Be vigilant… and patient… get a good book to work through whilst you’re waiting (War and Peace should just about do it).

(4) Cross-contamination at these events can be a real problem - keep raw and cooked foods well separated, use different utensils and equipment for each, wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat, and especially, when you’ve been to the toilet, handled any pets, blown your nose, or, been foraging around in the bin!

(5) This one may catch you by surprise - but try and refrain from giving your raw meat a wash as it’s well known that the splashing action of water in this way can actually propel dangerous microbes all over the place from the food. But worry not; the heat of cooking will kill off any microbes present on your meat.

(6) Serve your glorious creations with utensils, and, on to plates, using cutlery that have not been in contact with any raw meat - a beautiful ‘marinated flamingo breast’ is no good if it’s served with an E. coli garnish!

And there you have it folks. OK, so I’m not saying that if you follow all these guidelines to the exact letter, then I’m sure things will go perfectly and you’ll have a day to remember for all the right reasons. It’s more like, that if you follow these guidelines you’ll reduce your chances of something going wrong as you can never completely rule out the unexpected from happening.
Yes - a random seagull flying overhead and dropping a Campylobacter-laden poop right in the middle of your meatball, pasta salad can never be entirely foreseen!


Food Standards Agency (FSA). food.gov.uk (July 2014) Six tips for a top barbecue.

Murray, P.R., Rosenthal, K.S., Kobayashi, G.S., Pfaller, M.A. Ed. (2002) Medical Microbiology 4th ed. Mosby.

Prescott, L.M., Harley, J.P., Klein, D.A. Ed. (1996) Microbiology 3rd ed. Wm. C. Brown Publishers.

© Willow Science 2015

Vicky :) xx