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 cooking only 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.
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.
Germs from raw meat can move easily onto your hands and then 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.
- 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:
- milk, cream, yoghurt
- desserts and cream cakes
- 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.
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). Use only recognised firelighters or starter fuel, and then only on cold coals.
Never use petrol on a barbecue.