Labor Day Weekend is the unofficial end of Summer, and for many that means firing up the backyard grill upping the risks for deadly accidents from barbecues.
“Every year we see anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 cases of burns caused by barbecues,” Dr. Kevin Rodgers, President of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, says. “And those are the ones reported, so we know there are countless more that are not treated in emergency rooms.”
Dr. Rodgers, a professor of clinical emergency medicine at Indiana University, used to be a firefighter and paramedic so he’s seen firsthand the damage caused by improper grilling.
He notes that minor burns are the # 1 cause of grill accidents can be treated by cleaning the wound and applying an antibiotic ointment. But severe burns need to be looked at by a healthcare professional.
Below are some safety tips to ensure an accident-free grilling weekend in your backyard, as follows:
Safety begins before you even throw the meat on the grill. “The key to have a safe barbecue is preparation,” Dr. Rodgers says.
“Always make sure that you have a fire extinguisher on hand that is in proper working order. Have your gas grill checked out to make sure there are no leaks in the hoses. You can rub the hoses with a soapy solution and if you see bubbles when you turn on the gas or if you smell gas, you’ve got a leak.”
Beware brush bristles. It’s always a good idea to clean your gas grill grate thoroughly to remove built-up grease and debris, but make sure that the wire brush you use is new each season and in good shape. Otherwise you may ingest metal brush particles with your food.
Researchers found that between Y’s 2002 and 2014 more than 1,698 grill-brush injuries were reported in emergency rooms.
Reduce fire risks. About 8,000 house fires each year are the result of grill errors and most are due to gas grills placed too close to a home or near flammable materials.
“Place the grill at least two feet away from the house and make sure, if your grill is on a wooden deck, that the legs are secure,” he says. “I recall one case where the guy who was grilling walked away from his fire and one of the legs collapsed setting the deck ablaze.”
If you are using a portable grill, make sure it is one a flat surface and cannot tip over.
Keep a close watch on the grill. Never leave your grill unattended, says Rodgers, calling that piece of advice “another cardinal rule” for fire safety. “A little kid may come along and try to touch the surface or in the case mentioned above, something malfunctions,” he says.
Be patient. Besides preparation, Dr. Rodgers preaches patience to avoid accidents. “If the charcoal is not burning fast enough for you, do not apply more lighter fluid. You apply the fluid, never ever use gasoline, onto the charcoal once and then be patient,” he advises.
“Gasoline has a different flash point and the coals can blow up.”
Be aware of rising gas levels. “If the electronic starter on the gas grill doesn’t work, turn off the gas and burners and then go into the house to get a match,” he says. “I’ve seen folks leave the gas and burners on while they search for matches so when they set the match into the grill, the flames explode.”
Keep a safe distance. A blazing grill can not only burn skin, but can also put your eyes at risk. “We see many people with burns on their corneas as a result of sparks flying into their eyes,” he says.
Put out the fire. When you are done grilling, be certain that the fire is out and everything is turned off and covered. “Turn off the gas tank and cover charcoal coals thoroughly as a little wind can provide enough oxygen to ignite them,” says Dr. Rodgers. “If you are camping, be diligent in covering your ashes to prevent forest fires, lives and property depend on it.”
It is also important to practice food safety when grilling outdoors.
Nutritionist Dr. Robert Silverman from White Plains, NY, recommends thoroughly cooking, but not charring grilled foods, which can produce cancer-causing substances.
“Control the flame so that you do not burn the meat or fish you are grilling which can be carcinogenic. Trim excess fat from the meat to avoid flare-ups and don’t use cooking sprays on a hot grill,” he says.
A safer and less flammable way to prevent sticking is to use a lemon or onion to lubricate the grill.
“It tastes better too,” says Dr. Silverman.
It’s also important to make sure that the internal temperature of grilled meat is at least 165 degrees before serving it, or you risk suffering food poisoning.
Using a thermometer is essential to ensure that all bacteria is killed.
Dr. Rodgers adds that many food-poisoning accidents are caused by chilled side dishes that have been allowed to sit unrefrigerated for long periods of time.
“Make sure that your side dishes like potato salad and coleslaw are kept cold to prevent food spoilage and poisoning,” he says.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively and have a terrific accident free Labor Day Weekend.
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