The Hidden Health Hazards of Grilling And Barbecuing

Many people enjoy a tender grilled chicken breast, sirloin steak, or filet of fish, and nothing says summer quite like a good old fashioned barbecue. But if you aren’t careful, a summer of enjoying barbecued cuisine can prove deadly to your health.

It has been well documented that undercooking meat can cause a variety of food borne diseases. But it’s now apparent that overcooking can be just as bad, if not worse, as studies reveal that it can cause cancer.

The true culprit is charred meat, the portion of the meat that’s essentially turned into charcoal due to overheating. Scientists found that charred meat produces a compound called PhIP, which has been shown to cause various types of cancers in rats.

The findings were revealed at a conference for the American Association for Cancer Research in April, wherein they showed that when PhIP was mixed in with rats’ food, their spleens, prostates and intestines underwent cancerous genetic mutations after four weeks.

If this isn’t bad enough, other evidence suggests that PhIP isn’t the only malignant compound that’s produced when meat is charred. Another compound called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, can increase the risk of various cancers in humans, including prostate, colon, stomach and breast cancer.

Yet another compound worthy of concern is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs form when fats from chicken, steak and types of fish are re-deposited onto the barbecued slab, due to the high heat and smoke brewing from the hibachi, after the fatty oils have dripped on the hot coals below.

So, do findings like this mean you should swear off barbecuing forever? Certainly not. And even if it did, it’s not likely that the thousands of Americans who barbecue regularly even would. However, caution can and should be taken when eating and preparing for a barbecue:

Get the Grill Goin’—If you haven’t used the grill for awhile, its best to give it a good clean by turning up the heat to high and closing the lid for about 10 minutes. This will remove the caked oil and grease from past grilling

Cut the Fat—Not only does trimming the fat off meat reduce saturated fat content, it also greatly reduces the likelihood of PAH compounds forming

Remove Charred Meat Portions from the Meat Before Serving or Eating

Marinade Meat—Marinating does mean extra preparation, but scientists believe that the ingredients in marinades act as a sort of shield for the meat, reducing the chances of carcinogenic compounds forming significantly

Wash Your Hands—This is common sense, but cleaning your hands thoroughly—for at least 20 seconds—is essential when handling raw meat

Avoid Cross Contamination—The easiest way to avoid this is to use two different plates when handling food: One plate for raw meat, another plate for cooked meats. The same standard should apply for cutting raw and cooked meat products (i.e. different utensils and cutting boards)

Pre-cook Meats—Boiling chicken wings or heating up pieces of swordfish or steak in the oven prior to grilling is a great way to ensure it’s fully cooked

Flip Frequently—Once you’ve made it to the grill, don’t just leave it alone only to flip the burger once or twice. Research indicates that flipping frequently at a low heat hastens the time it takes to get the barbecued fare from the grill to the dinner table.

Exercise Portion Control—The thicker the meat, the longer it takes to cook thoroughly. Keeping the cuts small will fix this

Keep a Thermometer Handy—Judging whether or not meat is cooked thoroughly enough shouldn’t be done just by examining its inner color. The U.S. Department of Health advises that chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees, hamburger to 160 degrees, pork to 150 degrees and hot dogs to at least 140 degrees. Steak should be cooked to 145 degrees for medium rare and 160 degrees for medium

Following these 10 tips will help provide you with yet another fun, safe and delicious season of barbecue bonanza.