Barbecue food safety

Food poisoning cases double over the summer, so remember these simple steps to help keep food safe.

Food poisoning is usually mild, and most people get better within a week. But sometimes it can be more severe, even deadly, so it's important to take the risks seriously. Children, older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.

"The safest option is to cook food indoors using your oven," says a spokesperson from the Food Standards Agency (FSA). "You can then put the cooked food outside on the barbecue for flavour." This can be an easier option if you're cooking for a lot of people at the same time.

If you are only cooking on the barbecue, the two main risk factors are: 

  • undercooked meat
  • spreading germs from raw meat onto food that's ready to eat

This is because raw or undercooked meat can contain germs that cause food poisoning, such as salmonella, E.coli and campylobacter. However, these germs can be killed by cooking meat until it is piping hot throughout. 

Germs from raw meat can easily move onto your hands and then onto anything else you touch, such as food that is cooked and ready to eat

Cooking meat on a barbecue

When you're cooking any kind of meat on a barbecue, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), pork, steak, burgers or sausages, make sure:

  • the coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means that they're hot enough
  • frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it
  • you turn the meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to cook it evenly

Remember that meat is safe to eat only when:

  • it is piping hot in the centre 
  • there is no pink meat visible
  • any juices are clear

"Don't assume that because meat is charred on the outside it will be cooked properly on the inside," says the FSA spokesperson. "Cut the meat at the thickest part and ensure none of it is pink on the inside."

Some meat, such as steaks and joints of beef or lamb, can be served rare (not cooked in the middle) as long as the outside has been properly cooked. This will kill any bacteria that might be on the outside of the meat. However, food made from minced meat, such as sausages and burgers, must be cooked thoroughly all the way through.

Raw meat

Germs from raw meat can move easily onto your hands and then onto anything else you touch, including food that is cooked and ready to eat. This is called cross-contamination.

Cross-contamination can happen if raw meat touches anything (including plates, cutlery, tongs and chopping boards) that then comes into contact with other food.

Some easy steps to help prevent cross-contamination are: 

  • always wash your hands after touching raw meat
  • use separate utensils (plates, tongs, containers) for cooked and raw meat
  • never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has had raw meat on it
  • keep raw meat in a sealed container away from foods that are ready to eat, such as salads and buns 
  • never wash raw chicken or other poultry before cooking as this increases the risk of spreading campylobacter bacteria.
  • don't put raw meat next to cooked or partly cooked meat on the barbecue
  • don't put sauce or marinade on cooked food if it has already been used with raw meat

Keeping food cool

It's also important to keep some foods cool to prevent food poisoning germs multiplying.

Make sure you keep the following foods cool: 

  • salads
  • dips
  • milk, cream, yoghurt
  • desserts and cream cakes
  • sandwiches 
  • ham and other cooked meats
  • cooked rice, including rice salads

Don't leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don't leave food in the sun.

Fire safety

Make sure your barbecue is steady on a level surface, away from plants and trees. 

The Fire Service advises covering the bottom of your barbecue with coal to a depth of no more than 5cm (2in).

With charcoal barbecues, only use recognised fire lighters or starter fuel and only on cold coals – use the minimum necessary and never use petrol.

See more on the Fire Service's barbecue safety tips.

Page last reviewed: 14/03/2014

Next review due: 14/03/2016

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Sharry Steve said on 05 September 2013

BBQ is ok as far as safety is concerned, but fast-food is responsible for several health-related problems in the United States. One research says that "only one percent of obese people are obese due to glandular problems. Unbalanced and unhealthy diet is the major cause of obesity."

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User29711 said on 01 June 2012

Some people advocate having a jug of boiling water in which tools are stored after being used for raw meat, however, this water rapidly cools to form a soup in which bacteria will thrive.

I make a point of lodging the used tool over the heat of the charcoal and allow the dry heat to sterilise the tool which, after little while is safe to use on part-cooked meat. I always reserve the tongs for the final serving of cooked meat, never for raw.

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