Consumer News for Families

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Grilling Safety, By David S. Casey, Jr. and Brad Hendricks

Summer is a popular time for friends and family to gather for a barbeque. With that in mind, it's imperative for adults to set a good example early on for children regarding grilling safety and the basics of safe food handling.

Both charcoal and gas grills pose safety hazards, but knowledgeable use can make the difference between an enjoyable picnic and a perilous one. The word "grilling," naturally, makes one think about fire. Flames and glowing coals are visible elements, so we tend to be mindful of them. However, we cannot forget about a potentially deadly side effect of grilling -- carbon monoxide. When burned, charcoal produces carbon monoxide -- a colorless, odorless gas that can reach toxic levels in areas without sufficient ventilation.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year charcoal grills cause about 20 deaths and more than 300 emergency room treated injuries from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. To reduce CO poisonings, the CPSC recommends:

? Don't burn charcoal inside your house, vehicle, tent or camper.

? Don't use charcoal indoors, no matter how much ventilation is provided.

? Don't store the grill indoors with freshly used coals. Charcoal continues to produce CO until the coals are completely extinguished.

Each year, gas grill use causes more than 500 fires. Gas grill fires and explosions injure about 20 people annually. According to the CPSC, these fires and explosions occur when people use a grill that has been unused for some time, or just after they've refilled and reattached the grill's gas container. To reduce risk, The CPSC recommends:

? Check tubes that lead into the burner for blockage. Use a pipe cleaner or wire to push insects, spiders or food through to the main part of the burner.

? Check hoses for cracks, brittleness and holes. Tubes should not be sharply bent.

? Move gas hoses far from hot surfaces and dripping hot grease, or install a heat shield over them.

? Replace scratched and nicked connectors -- they will eventually leak gas.

? Keep lighted cigarettes, matches and flames away from a leaking grill.

? Use the grill at least 10 feet away from any building. Never use it indoors, in a garage, carport, or porch, or under a surface that can catch fire.

? Keep the grill top open when lighting.

? Never try to repair the tank valve or the appliance yourself.

It is imperative to be equally careful when preparing and cooking food. Foodborne illness occurs more frequently in warmer weather. According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), from 1996-1998 laboratory-confirmed infections caused by E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella increased during the Summer months. Bacteria are literally everywhere -- in the soil, air, water, people and animals -- and summertime heat means faster bacteria growth. We can prevent foodborne illness by keeping a few simple rules in mind: Cleanliness, separation and temperature.

According to FSIS, unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness. Wash up with hot, soapy water after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. If you're eating away from home, pack wet, disposable washcloths and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

If you've carried out raw meat, poultry or fish on a platter for grilling, once you've emptied the platter, wash it thoroughly before re-using. The same goes for utensils and cutting boards -- if they have touched raw foods, wash them before re-using for cooked foods.

Most important, make sure you cook everything completely. It's a good idea to invest in and use a meat thermometer. The FSIS recommends:

? Cook hamburger and other ground meats to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (ground poultry to 165 degrees F).

? Cook steaks and roasts that have been tenderized, boned, rolled, etc., to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F.

? Cook whole steaks and roasts to 145 degrees F for medium rare; whole poultry to 180 degrees F in the thigh; and breast meat to 170 degrees F.

The good news is that people seldom get sick from contaminated food because most people have healthy immune systems. However, children, elderly people and those who have compromised immune systems are typically at higher risk if contamination is present. It is reassuring to know we can help keep our families and friends safe by taking a few crucial extra steps, even during leisure time activities.

David S. Casey, Jr., president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, is a partner in the San Diego, CA, law firm of Casey, Gerry, Reed & Schenk. Brad Hendricks, president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, is a partner in the Brad Hendricks Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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