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Barbecue Safety

How to Barbecue Safely

All you barbecue aficionados out there will no doubt be interested to learn that the ancient art of barbecue actually goes way back to the time of the Caribbean Indians. Yes, the technique didn’t originally belong to the white settlers but was in fact a means of getting tribes to commune together. The meat was cooked in the ground, in a sort of ‘long trench’ which would have wood thrown in underneath it for a delicious inferno.

These days everybody loves a good barbecue, and rightly so. But this enjoyable outdoor pastime can quickly become sour if things aren’t kept under control – one small mistake and things can go from good, to bad, to worse in just seconds.

Between 2000 and 2002 there were on average 1500 reported accidents each year as a result of barbecuing and probably thousands more that were unreported.

Since we don’t want you turning into a statistic by burning yourself, your friends, your family or your property, we’ve compiled a nice list of safety tips for you to read below. Be safe and happy barbecuing!

How to barbecue safely
BBQ/Griller Maintenance

1) Ensure your BBQ/griller is in good condition and suitable to be used.

A study was done to show that the average British barbecue contains twice as many germs as a toilet seat. Crikey! That’s not exactly a nice thought when you’re trying to eat some half burnt sausages, is it?

The news comes from ‘one of the UK’s leading food safety experts’ Dr Lisa Ackerley. She’s done some tests on barbecue grills, hopefully not while using the opportunity to cook up some burgers at the same time, and found that the typical outdoor barbecue grill contains a whopping 1.7 million microbes per 100cm sq. That’s a lot of the little nasty critters buzzing around in there, making it the mankiest surface in the garden with 124% more bacteria than your average toilet seat.

So, while your barbecue may look clean to the naked eye it’s actually harbouring some pretty nasty things. The high levels of microbes contained in such a small space can lead to e-coli, salmonella and listeria – three things that you definitely don’t want to end up giving to your barbecue guests. They’re not exactly going to thank you for the severe vomiting and diarrhoea it can cause!

These high levels are down to the idea that most British people aren’t cleaning the garden as well as they should be doing. While 71% say they clean the kitchen table every day, with 42% doing the same with the toilet seat, only 28% clean their garden table and 36% clean their barbecues. This is obviously something that can be vastly improved upon. So, what can you do to keep it clean?

We’re not saying you have to pop outside every day and clean your barbecue as that would be pointless. Instead you need to make sure you clean it before you begin using it, and the same goes for when you’ve finished using it. Don’t make the excuse that you’ll clean it next time you want to use it, in the meantime your barbecue will be turning into a bacteria paradise that will be harder to scrub clean when you eventually get around to doing it.

You can make the argument that the heat will kill the bacteria anyway, but it’s best to be doubly sure; why would you cook on a dirty barbecue that still has food stuck to it anyway? Simply do the following:

  • Spray your barbecue with disinfectant and wipe down thoroughly. Remember to wear gloves!
  • Wipe down the grill with cooking oil to prevent food from sticking.

Once you’ve finished using your barbecue, and hopefully after serving up some of the nicest barbecue food you and your guests taste buds will ever experience – do this:

Outback Mitt Set
  • Once the barbecue has cooled down you can slip out the metal grills and put them in the dishwasher. No dishwasher? No problem; just put them in the sink instead and wash in warm soapy water. If there’s any stubborn food sticking to it use a mild abrasive cleaner and leave it to soak for a while (make sure you wear gloves whilst handling it).
  • If you have a charcoal grill make sure you wipe all the charcoal remnants and dust out of the bottom when you empty it. You can use a wire brush to do this (like this one) and help clear away any food remnants too, before washing the surface down.
  • Make sure you wipe down the outside of the barbecue too with disinfectant and a moist cloth. You’ll have been touching the surface quite a bit while cooking, especially if you’re lifting a lid up all the time.

This all may seem obvious however few people actually take the time to do a proper check-up or indeed any maintenance whatsoever. When you consider the fuels that are used and the destructive nature of the heat and fire that is produced by any type of barbecue be these charcoal or gas, it becomes obvious that it simply isn’t worth the risk of ignoring maintenance.

Don’t let bristles spoil your barbecue this summer

If you haven’t already this ‘summer’ it’s time to get out the barbecue and have an outdoors party. Forecasters in Britain have already predicted that this weekend is going to be a scorcher (or what passes for a scorcher here in the UK anyway).

But it may have been so long since you’ve lit the trusty old Joe well, just in case here’s a post reminding you exactly how to go about it and get the best results.

First off, wipe off any ash still sitting on the BBQ (in fact, give it a good wash). Next, add some new charcoal. Start off by sorting the bits of charcoal into a circle shape and build them up into a pyramid.

Get your canister of lighter fluid and pour this onto the highest point of the pyramid. Then it’s time to light your little pile. Using a long handled match get a good flame going then close down the lid if you have one. Fifteen minutes later, you’re going to be cooking (in more ways than one).

While the grill’s lighting up it’s a good idea to check that you’ve everything to hand prior to actually putting the food on. That means having all your barbecue tools nearby. Tongs, forks, spatulas and tongs are not just handy but essential if you don’t want to end up with something resembling third degree burns and a visit to the local casualty department.

And, talking about a visit to your local hospital, we don’t want to put you off or anything but as the one doing the cooking and cleaning of the grill afterwards (we hope), the following might be something to think about.

Apparently between March 2011 to June 2012 six cases in America were reported of individuals who had fallen ill after accidentally swallowing bristles from their barbecue brush which had got stuck in hamburgers, sausages etc.

The report, by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, added that the previous year doctors at Rhode Island Hospital had treated another six patients for the same thing.

Dr. David Grand, a radiologist who works in the hospital’s Department of Diagnostic Imaging, said he and his colleagues were puzzled.

He told the Washington Post: “We all put our heads together and said, ‘Hey, has anyone seen this before?’ Once we had three cases identified, we realized that something was happening.”

Scary! But what can you do to make sure you DEFINITELY don’t swallow any of those bristles?

Well, an obvious answer would be to scour that grill pan prior to cooking to ensure there’s no nasty bristles laying in wait. It’d also be a good idea to make sure it’s well-oiled (so the bristles don’t slip but just slide off).The way to do this is to heat the grill then wipe it with a paper towel soaked in oil. You can do this by holding the paper towel with a set of tongs.

Another method of keeping the bristles at bay is to leave the barbecue grill on for ten minutes or so after cooking (if it’s a gas grill you have) and then just wipe the ash away easily.

2) Position the barbecue in a safe place.

Fire can be a beautiful thing, but it may also be deadly. To ensure that everyone enjoys the barbecue consider the implications of what will happen if you are not vigilant about where you cook.

Avoid barbecuing under low hanging trees, near bushes or anything else that is flammable such as sheds, arches or benches. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of the flames spreading if something does go wrong as the BBQ site will be isolated. Also, when setting up the barbecue, try and do it on the flattest piece of land possible – avoid slopes and gradients. If your barbecue has wheels, lock them or put a brick either side to stop it from moving.

Ensure that you have appropriate extinguishers at hand so that you are able to quickly attend to a fire that gets out of hand. It’s always handy to keep a bucket of sand or water nearby (a hose will even suffice if you’re in the garden).

Ensure that children and pets are kept away from the barbecue. Curious by nature the hissing, sizzling and popping will be very tempting so ensure that you are extra cautious when smaller children are around - A story out of Worcester shows that barbecue fires aren’t the only thing you have to worry about. We’re well aware of taking safety precautions for ourselves when using barbecues, but what about pets when you’re flipping a good steak? Boris the Sprocker dog managed to swallow a kebab skewer and nearly died.

Barbecue Dog

“Boris was in a collapsed and compromised state having deteriorated at home over the previous few hours,” said practice principal Jon Slattery.

“He was immediately assessed, stabilised and operated on by the duty veterinary surgeon and the offending foreign body removed.”

Thankfully Boris has now made a full recovery, but that’s a cautionary tale to be careful when pets are around the barbecues. Some other things to consider are bones in any barbecue food you might absent mindedly give your pet, but they can also get injured if they try to steal hot food off the barbecue. Just make sure to keep an eye on them if you let them run around outside.

This should go without saying but only use your barbecue outdoors. Coal barbecues produce carbon monoxide (even when the flames are out and are merely embers!).

Remember to always follow the manufacturer instructions provided with your barbecue!

3) Make sure the BBQ is manned at all times.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to smokers (nobody expects you to stand over it whilst your food is smoked for hours upon hours), but for the regular charcoal or gas grill, there should be someone overseeing it at all times. If you have to take a toilet break, ask someone to keep an eye on things whilst you’re gone for a few minutes, nobody will object. Don’t be fooled into thinking nothing bad can happen if you leave it alone for a while – a few minutes is all it takes for things to turn ugly.

Man the barbecue

4) Ensure you’re prepared for emergencies.

It is clear that barbecuing can have a sinister side when manufacturer’s instructions are not followed to the letter. By heeding the fire service’s advice and listening to these cautionary tales you can continue to enjoy your barbecue safely.

Modern barbecues are packed with features that make using them that much more safe to use, such as variable heat settings, lids and easier to control flames. Don’t avoid using barbecues due to the risk of harm, instead make sure that you know how to use one properly and enjoy yourself safely.

5) Let the barbecue fully cool down before putting it away or moving it.

Yes, we know, we sound like your parents nagging you about things which are trivial and obvious; but if we can save people from burning themselves and incurring injuries, we’ll nag 24/7. So basically, don’t move the barbecue until it’s had a sufficient amount of time to cool down and isn’t hot to the touch. If you have to move it the entire length of the garden, make sure it’s cooled down enough to do so; otherwise you’ll find yourself stuck halfway with first degree burns on your hands.

6) Don’t rush things – take time to prepare.

Where possible try and organise barbecues in advance so you’re allowed more time for preparation and ensuring everything is ready. Whilst spontaneous, spur of the moments BBQ’s are fine, make sure you don’t rush them because you and your friends are hungry. Run through all the normal things you would and ensure everything is safe before continuing with the barbecue; it pays to take things slowly.

7) Safety steps differ depending on the type of barbecue you have.

See below for details on how to stay safe whether you’re using a gas or a charcoal barbecue.

Charcoal barbecue care – there are a few basic steps you should follow when barbecuing on coals. When adding the coal to the barbecue, use a sufficient amount to cover its base only. And when lighting the charcoal, use only recognised lighter fuel on cold coals and only the minimum amount required.

When you’ve barbecued your food, don’t be tempted to place the hot ashes in the bin as their heat could melt the plastic and cause a fire.

Gas barbecue care – as with charcoal barbecues, there are a few simple measures you can take to prevent any mishaps with your gas grill. Keep an eye on blockages in the pipes, which can be caused by little bugs getting inside the joints, and disconnect immediately if you do spot anything. If you fear a leak, a quick test you can do is to brush some soapy water over the joints and see if it bubbles – the joint needs tightening if it does.

Other precautions to take include always changing the gas cylinder outdoors, and turning off the cylinder before you turn off the individual barbecue controls when you’ve finished cooking because this uses up any remaining gas in the pipes.

8) Food sense. 

To prevent you and your guests from getting food poisoning you need to avoid cross-contamination and undercooked meat. The number of food poisoning cases dealt with by the NHS can double in the summer time.

If you’ve ever had food poisoning have then you’ll know that unpleasant doesn’t come close to how awful a dose of it may be. Indeed, on top of the runs, the sickness and the other symptoms of food poisoning it is entirely possible for what may be a mild case for some to be potentially lethal for someone else.

The National Restaurant Association of America issued their grilling safety tips for alfresco cooking in 2012. Some of them are commonsense, others you might not have considered before but are definitely worth taking on board.

These are:

Hand washing. An old favourite which comes under the common-sense list, sometimes it’s easy to forget how important this is when grilling outdoors. For a start there’s no sink nearby. You can, however, buy hand sanitisers easily and they’re not expensive. Hand washing is particularly important after you’ve handled raw meat.

Keeping foods separate. Food which has already been cooked and that which is raw should never touch. Be particularly careful with ice as it’s easy to transfer bacteria between cooked and raw foods when placing them both in the same cooler bag at different times. Remember too to prepare these individually.

Keeping food out the sun. Nothing makes food spoil quicker than heat. It gives bugs a chance to multiply and before you know it that lovely fresh meat you choose earlier is now a health hazard. In fact, if it’s hotter than 90 degrees outside then your meat should only be sitting outside for up to one hour tops.

Making sure cooked food is hot enough. A thermometer doesn’t cost much but it could mean the difference between spending three days ill in bed and being able to run around enjoying the sunshine. Hamburgers and other red meats should be cooked to at least 155 degrees while chicken is best at around 165 degrees. When testing, remember to put your thermometer into the middle of the meat (which takes longer to cook) rather than the edges.

Preventing cross contamination. This is easily done by using separate knifes, forks and spoons for raw and cooked meats. It may mean packing extra silverware (or plastic cutlery) but it’s well worth it if you want to keep your guests well.

The above basic rules aren’t difficult to remember or maintain but they are essential. Barbecues should be a fun event with friends and family coming together in a party atmosphere – not a cause of illness and misery.

9) Park or countryside barbecue safety and etiquette

A lot of parks have started banning barbecues; and that’s not because they’re trying to spoil your fun but they’re concerned about the damage that some people using barbecues will inflict on the grounds. Other parks have setup specific areas where you can use barbecues, although not everyone seems to be using them.

A park in Edinburgh is having a problem with people leaving burnt scorch marks in the grass after cooking on disposable barbecues. Disposable barbecues aren’t exactly the thing we’d suggest to have a good quality barbecue, but they’re popular because they’re cheap and you don’t have to find somewhere to store your barbecue during the majority of the year that British people just won’t get the weather to use it. The park does have a designated area for barbecues, complete with stones on which to put your disposable barbecue, but people are simply either ignoring this rule or don’t realise that one exists. Park wardens do try their best to stop this from happening, but they are getting frustrated at people flouting the rules and the damage that it causes to the grass.

Barbecued Grass

If you think that a bit of burnt grass is nothing to cause a fuss about then consider this story from the Belfast Telegraph. The Mourne Mountain Rescue Team is concerned that disposable barbecues could potentially start a fire due to tinder dry local forests. The area hasn’t received much rain in the last few weeks, so unfortunately a single spark could set the whole place on fire. It’s not just worries about the environment though; such fires could potentially kill people in the area as they quickly spread out of control.

One reader in Canada wrote to the Montreal Gazette to suggest that electrical barbecues would ‘liven up city parks’ instead of people bringing along damaging and potentially dangerous disposable barbecues. It’s a good idea in theory, but we know just how packed parks can get during a heatwave so I’m not sure there would ever be enough available for people to have a barbecue. This would lead to people just starting their own fire like usual, although at least it’s a start.

10) Barbecue First Aid

A barbecue should be an event filled with fun, laughter, great conversation and of course delicious food. It sounds perfect yet any event can quickly turn sour if someone starts to choke.

Last week Downton Abbey fans who had tuned into their daily dose of period drama were treated to a harrowing advertisement during the show which highlighted the danger choking can cause. The controversial advert, which cost the St John Ambulance Service hundreds of thousands of pounds showed revellers at the celebration party for the main character who was celebrating beating cancer, choking to death on a piece of meat.

The final harrowing scenes of the advertisement showed him die in front of his young daughter who had watched over his diagnosis, treatment and recovery. The tagline for the piece was that first aid awareness could help prevent the number of such deaths every year, the same number of people who die from cancer.

While there were some complaints from viewers over the nature of the advert the question remains, how many of us actually know enough about first aid so that they would be confident in treating someone who is injured or in dire need, such as the gentleman pictured in the St Johns advertisement?

Choking in Adults

1. In the case of an adult starting to choke, the best course of action is to hit the person choking firmly between the shoulder blades to dislodge the item.

2. Should this action once repeated be obviously ineffective call 999 or have someone else do it, without delay.

Choking in Children

1. If a child starts to choke, hit them firmly on their back, between the shoulder blades five times in order to try to dislodge the obstruction.

2. If ineffective give up to five abdominal thrusts. The best way to do this is to pull inwards and upwards above the belly button from behind the child.

3. Repeat step one and two and if the child is still choking then ring 999 without delay.

Anywhere people are laughing and joking while eating and drinking poses a small risk of choking. By knowing what to do you can avert a potentially fatal disaster. There are any number of first aid courses available that will teach you the fundamentals of giving first aid in a variety of situations. Knowing how to do this could quite possibly save someone’s life.

For those who have trained in first aid, it is always worthwhile to attend a refresher course every three years. Some people say that knowing what to in a situation where first aid is required comes back instantly and therefore keeping up to date with current first aid advice and refreshing your memory may make all of the difference.

To book yourself on a first aid course speak to St Johns Ambulance, the British Red Cross or see if any local community groups may be running courses.

While it is unlikely that a quest at your barbecue would be hurt in any way it is not unheard of and limiting the risks, alongside knowing what to do if the unthinkable happens will make a big difference to the person who needs your help.

11) Barbecue on the beach – is it right?

An angry pub landlord this week urged his local council to produce on the spot fines to people enjoying barbecues on the beach.

Chris Taylor of Brighton was furious at beach goers who had ‘lit up’ only feet away from the famous seaside town’s esplanade. He claimed the smoke from the barbecues could be seen for miles around and was making the actual beach look like “Armageddon.”

According to local byelaws it is illegal to light a barbecue on the town’s beaches between the two piers. Neither is it permissible to light barbecues on certain parks or grassland areas in Brighton.

However, a spokesman for Brighton and Hove Council said they did not have the powers to enforce the local bylaws. Seafront officer Jay Hunter said: “We have no legal power. We can’t issue on-the-spot fines.

“It’s how we approach people. We have to manage each situation as it comes and do our very best to try and get through to that person the rules and regulations.”

An angry Mr Taylor, who lives in the town, said he saw barbecues in some of the banned locations – right in front of signs banning them.

In response to his demands for on the spot fines he added: “They can do it with traffic wardens and parking so why can’t they give people the power to do that down here?”

Meanwhile, thinking of having a barbecue on the beach? Then we have some tips right here for you:

• Utensils. In your excitement to pack and make sure the food’s all there it’s easy to forget to bring tongs to remove the food from the barbecue without ending up in A&E with third degree burns on your finger tips

• Oil. It really does help prevent food sticking to the actual grill and making a mess. Then someone’s got to clean it up…

• Seasoning. Yes, the food will taste fab because it’s been barbecued but it doesn’t do any harm to bring along some salt, pepper, tartar sauce etc

• Charcoal.  It’s very easy to buy the sustainable variety from a number of supermarkets and garden centres these days

• Cover up. We don’t mean yourself (although that’d be an idea if the sun is strong) but rather the food – so that hungry seagulls and other beach stalking birds can’t pinch it

• Nibbles. Make sure you have plenty of them as it can take a while to get the barbecue started and no-one wants guests with low-blood sugar hanging around!

Once you’ve finished your barbecue please remember to clear up after you – so as to avoid a possible horrendous encounter with an angry pub landlord (see above) or council officer (however impotent at issuing fines the latter may be).

Many beaches now have special barbecue dumping bins for ashes and foil trays. If you have left-over food remember to wrap it too so that it doesn’t make a mess and result in hundreds of seagulls trying to get into the one bin (think of the mess they’ll leave).

The main issue here though is that with the beach and the barbecue you have all the necessary tools for having a fantastic day – or evening – out. So… just enjoy!