With summer comes grilling season, and it’s always good to know the nutritional value of what you are flipping on the barbecue. Food borne illness, or "food poisoning," is common and affects approximately 70 million Americans a year, costing 10-15 billion dollars every year in healthcare costs. Fortunately, it can be avoided. Dr. Washburn on the medical staff at Centennial Medical Center in Frisco answers a few questions on grilling safety and nutrition.
Q: How should meat and fish be cleaned before grilling?
Poultry and fish should be lightly rinsed in cold water and patted dry prior to cooking. Vegetables and shellfish should be soaked in cold water for a few minutes to remove dirt and debris. Keep meat cold until ready to cook. For steaks, it's okay to bring them to room temperature while covered, but should be cooked immediately afterward. Don’t wait more than 20 minutes after removing from the refrigerator to start cooking steak. Inspect and remove bones from fish if possible.
Q: What kinds of precautions should be taken when handling raw fish and meat?
Always pay careful attention to keeping raw meat separate from cooked food, and from any utensils or dishes that will be used with cooked food. For example, do not carry meat to and from the grill with the same platter, unless you wash it thoroughly in between. Always wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meat. I recommend wearing rubber gloves when handling seafood, especially any wild-caught seafood. Harmful bacteria can thrive on the surface and if you cut or scratch yourself while preparing it, you could develop a serious skin infection. Also, it's better to use a wooden cutting board when preparing raw meat. Studies have shown that harmful organisms are less likely to survive on wooden surfaces as opposed to plastic. Keep all food covered to protect from insects. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Discard any food that has been at room temperature more than 2 hours.
Q: How long should meat and fish be cooked for it to be safe to eat?
Cooking time is irrelevant. What matters is the internal temperature of the meat. Heat is what kills the organisms that can cause disease, so having a meat thermometer is a necessity no matter how experienced the home chef may be. Cook pork, fish and steak to a minimum temperature of 145 degrees. Burgers should be cooked at least 160 degrees and poultry at least 170 degrees.
Q: What kind of bacteria is in fish, chicken and steak that can be harmful to your health?
There are numerous species of bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause illness if ingested. The most common are staph aureus, salmonella, campylobacter and enterovirus. Bacillus, Listeria, Vibrio and E. coli can also be problematic but are less common.
Q: What kind of illnesses can come from eating raw fish and meats?
The most common problem is gastroenteritis, or infection/inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal cramps, lack of appetite and even fever. Most of the time these are transient infections that tend to be self-limiting, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days in otherwise healthy individuals, but they can be quite serious in the very young, elderly, chronically ill or immunocompromised individuals.
Q: If raw fish or meat is consumed, what steps should be taken to prevent illness?
Consuming undercooked food does not always cause illness, but once consumed there isn't much that can be done to prevent infection. Induced vomiting or laxative use would not be recommended. Some doctors may recommend taking bismuth or Pepto Bismol, according to package instructions, but I can't say that there are any definitive studies proving its effectiveness at preventing illness once food is consumed. The most important thing is to treat symptoms as they develop and maintain fluid intake.
Q: What kind of bacteria can be found on a grill and what is the best way to clean it?
Bacterial contamination of your grill is not much of a concern so long as the grill is preheated, food is properly cooked and the surface is properly cleaned afterward. After grilling, use a spatula, wire brush or piece of balled-up aluminum foil to remove charred debris and then clean with soap and water. Otherwise, follow the manufacturer's instructions when cleaning other parts. Keep the grill covered to protect from insects.
Q: What are the positive health benefits that come from grilling fish and meat?
Grilling is among the healthiest ways to cook food because it tends to be oil-free, limiting the amount of fat and cholesterol that is ingested by other cooking methods. A portion of the food's natural fat content cooks out and drips away from the food when cooked on the grill. Vegetables are less likely to lose the important vitamins and minerals that can be lost while boiling.