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Five Things to Beware of This Barbecue Season

If you haven't yet brought your barbecue grill out from hibernation, you surely will have it fired up in time for the proverbial start of summer: Memorial Day.

As of 2001, about 75 percent of American households own a barbecue grill (and more than half of these households use the grill year-round). Their allure, no doubt, stems not only from their ability to cook up tasty hamburgers and steaks but also from their starring role at countless outdoor family gatherings.

grill dangers

Millions of Americans look forward to summer barbecues, but many are now questioning whether the nostalgic taste makes up for the potential risks.

Before you gear up for barbecue season this year, though, you should know that there are some, quite serious, risks involved. From the risk of burns to the creation of toxic compounds in your food, barbecue grills may not be as safe as they're cracked up to be.

1. Burns to Kids and Pets

More than 6,000 fires and explosions every year are caused by barbecue grills, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Such accidents, which can be caused by dripping grease causing grease fires or children adding gas to the flames, result in 20,000 visits to the emergency room and cause $29 million in damages each year.

Meanwhile, children and pets can easily become seriously burned by touching even the outside of a hot, unattended grill.

The HearthGate™ barbecue and fireplace protection gate is an excellent solution and a smart investment for anyone with children, grandchildren or pets. It keeps kids safely away from the grill and out of harm's way.

2. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Barbecue grill smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. When the smoke surrounds your food -- particularly when fat drips onto the heat source and causes excess smoke -- it transfers PAHs to your food.

You can reduce the amount of PAHs when you grill by not cooking fatty meats, or by putting a layer of foil between the meat and the coals. Also, you should cook your food with indirect heat, such as on a rack rather than directly on the coals.

3. Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs)

Heterocyclic amines form when food is cooked at a high temperature, either by grilling, broiling, frying or searing. The chemicals have been linked to cancer.

The worst part of the meat, from an HCA perspective, is the blackened section. To reduce your risk from HCAs, avoid charring your meat (and don't eat the black parts), cook it partially before putting it on the grill, or cook smaller pieces of meat, which take less time to cook, and therefore give HCAs less time to form.


Keep your children and pets safe while you barbecue with the simple-to-install HearthGate™ barbecue and fireplace protection gate.

Meanwhile, according to David Diamond, M.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology Medical's chief of medicine, marinating meats before grilling or broiling them can reduce HCAs by 90 percent or more.

4. Avanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)

Advanced glycation end products are also produced when meats are cooked at high temperatures, such as while grilling, frying or broiling (they're also produced when foods are pasteurized or sterilized).

AGEs, according to researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, build up in the body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

The researchers recommended boiling, steaming and stewing foods as a safe alternative to grilling. Meanwhile, some evidence also suggests that using acidic marinades including lemon juice and vinegar might help to fight AGEs.

5. Food Poisoning

When people at barbecues think about food poisoning, they often relate it to the mayonnaise-based salad dressings and potato, chicken and tuna salads. However, barbecued meat that is undercooked or improperly handled can also be a source of food-borne illness like salmonella.

Aside from making sure the meat is cooked to a safe temperature (but definitely NOT overdone or charred), you can reduce your risk of food poisoning from barbecued meat by thawing meat before cooking it, grilling it as soon as you take it out of the refrigerator, and promptly refrigerating any leftovers.

Recommended Reading

Before You Swim This Summer, You Should Know What Is Lurking at Your Beach

Bugs that Bite: Interesting Facts & Necessary Precautions on the Insects That Crave You


Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, April 2007, 62:427-433

CBC News

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Medical

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