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The Rules of Separation at the Grill

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: May 24, 2019

Reviewed: May 18, 2023

meat and vegetables on grill

It's officially summer! Ovens across America are turning off and grills are firing up. As you make the move from cooking indoors to outside, make sure your food safety skills travel with you. After all, food safety doesn’t just apply in the kitchen — the same rules apply at the grill, especially when it comes to preventing cross-contamination.

During grilling season, cross-contamination, a leading cause of food poisoning, tops the list of food safety concerns. When juices from raw meats or bacteria from unclean items touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods, cross-contamination can occur, spreading harmful bacteria that can make you sick. Learn how to reduce your risk of food poisoning with these five rules of separation.

Rule #1: Always Start with a Clean Grill.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions to clean your grill. Removing charred food debris from the grill reduces exposure to bacteria.

Rule #2: Use Separate Plates for Uncooked and Cooked Foods.

Do not put cooked foods back on plates that originally held raw foods. Always wash plates or serving trays in hot soapy water between uses or, better yet, use separate plates: one for bringing raw meat, poultry and seafood to the grill and another for taking cooked foods off the grill.

Rule #3: Clean Utensils or Use Separate Utensils as You Grill.

After using tongs or spatulas to put raw meats, seafood or poultry on the grill, clean them thoroughly with hot soapy water before using them again to remove cooked foods. If it is too much to clean utensils while working the grill, use two sets of utensils: one for raw meats and the other set for cooked foods.

Rule #4: Marinate Mindfully — Before, During and After Grilling.

Reusing marinade that was on raw meats, seafood or poultry for cooked foods may be risky. Always boil any leftover marinade to destroy harmful bacteria before using it on cooked meats. Or even better, before you grill, plan ahead and make extra marinade. Use part to marinate the raw food; set aside a clean portion to use on cooked foods. While you are at the grill, never use the same brush to baste both raw and cooked meats with the marinade. Always use a different brush or one that has been washed in hot soapy water.

Rule #5: Leave the Dishtowels in the Kitchen.

Using the same dishtowel multiple times to wipe your hands and clean up spills at the grill can spread bacteria. Instead, prevent cross-contamination by using paper towels or disposable wipes to clean spills when grilling. Save the dishtowels for drying your clean hands and dishes.

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