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Ohio State University Extension


Backyard Grilling: Food Safety Practices to Keep on the Front Burner

Family and Consumer Sciences
 James S. Bates, PhD and Sanja Ilic, PhD

Whether the fuel is charcoal, gas, electricity, or the open flame of a campfire, Americans love to grill. Grilling is one way to cook foods from all of the food groups. Proper food handling and food safety practices are essential for grilling up a safe and healthy meal. In this fact sheet, four foundational aspects of safe food handling and grilling are detailed: handwashing, cross-contamination, grilling/cooking temperatures of meats, and food storage before and after grilling. The information comes from an interview conducted with Sanja Ilic, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Human Sciences and Food Safety State Specialist at The Ohio State University.


Question: Professor Ilic, as with all cooking, it is important for anyone involved in preparing, cooking or handling food to have clean hands. What are the standard, recommended practices for handwashing?

Response: Handwashing is the best way to protect yourself and others from illnesses caused by germs. It is important to wash your hands before, during and after preparing foods; before eating; after using restroom; and after touching anything that might not be clean like garbage, petting animals and other similar activities. When you wash your hands, do it right. Using clean water and soap, scrub for at least 20 seconds, for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, then rinse and dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not dry hands on your clothes.

Question: What should people do if they’re outside and not close to a sink?

Response: Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on your hands. However, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Also, they are not effective if your hands are greasy or visibly dirty.


Question: Grilling is a great way to cook all kinds of foods. What are your recommendations for avoiding cross-contamination both while you’re cooking on the grill or in preparing food before grilling?

Response: Never use a plate that held raw meat for any other food, including cooked meat. Clean and sanitize utensils and other cookware before and after handling food. If you are grilling away from home, dispose of the plate that held raw meat and bring disposable wipes, biodegradable soap and fresh water to clean with. Do not wash your meat before grilling. Bacteria from raw meat and poultry juices can splash onto other foods and surfaces.

Grilling/Cooking Temperatures of Meats

Question: There are specific temperatures to which certain meats need to be cooked before they are ready to serve. What are the recommended temperatures for meats?

Response: All poultry products, chicken or turkey burgers, hot dogs and sausages to 165 F, measured with a thermometer at the thickest part of the meat. Ground beef, including burgers should be cooked to 160 F and steaks, roasts, chops and seafood to at least 145 F. Do not rely on color to tell whether a burger is done. A burger can be undercooked even if it is brown in the middle. The only way to know if the meat is safe to eat is to use a food thermometer.

Food Storage: Before and After Grilling

Question: Raw foods need to be kept chilled before grilling and uneaten cooked foods need to be stored at the appropriate temperature to avoid spoiling. Tell me about the “Danger Zone” and other recommendations for safe food storage.

Response: The temperature Danger Zone is between 40 F and 140 F. At these temperatures bacteria can quickly multiply. Bacteria can reach dangerously high numbers within two hours, or within one hour at 90 F or above. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be safe if you cook the food thoroughly enough: When in the Danger Zone, microorganisms can produce toxins that remain in the food even after heat kills the bacteria. So, keep raw meat cold. Never leave the meat to thaw or marinade on the counter overnight. Thaw meat in the refrigerator, under cool running water, as part of the cooking process, or in the microwave for immediate use. Discard the marinade once the meat has been removed; don’t reuse it as a sauce.

Anything Else?

Question: What other aspects/topics of food safety at the grill should people be aware of?

Response: Be sure to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables prior to eating or preparing. Fresh cut produce like melon, tomato, onion slices, and salads have to be kept cold at all times. Bacteria can multiply quickly in fresh cut produce. If you are grilling away from home, pack all perishable foods in a cooler with plenty of ice. Do not open the cooler very often. Use an ice block or gel packs because they stay cold longer than ice cubes. Store all ready-to-eat foods separately from raw meats.


To ensure a successful barbeque with family and friends be sure to know and follow these simple food safety guidelines. No one wants to ruin a perfect meal by making all who gather sick because of improper food handling. Practicing proper food safety is simple and will guarantee that the party will be a memorable event for the right reasons.

References and Resources 

Originally posted Sep 11, 2017.