Enjoy Summer Grilling Safely



Steaks grilled to perfection: juicy and tender with hint of smoky flavour.  For many barbeque aficionados, summer just wouldn’t be summer without firing up the ‘barbe’.  Unfortunately, the quest for hot-off-the-grill flavour can sometimes result in damage and injuries.  Boys under nine-years-old are surprisingly the most likely to be injured in barbeque accidents.  Their odds are one in 33,509 followed by men in their twenties at one in 1 in 46,276*.  In addition to injuries, many homes suffer heat and fire damage each year.  Awareness is the key to enjoying your barbeque safely.

One of the least safe places to barbeque is on a balcony.  A back draft can draw smoke into the apartment making breathing uncomfortable and creating a health hazard.  A by-product of burning propane, wood and/or charcoal is carbon monoxide.  This odourless gas blocks the human body from absorbing essential oxygen.  Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning become disoriented, which is very unsafe near a hot barbeque.  At concentrated levels, carbon monoxide is fatal.  Barbequing on a balcony also poses a hazard to neighbours since a breeze can carry burning embers into their suites.  Balconies typically do not have sprinklers so a fire can spread quickly. 

Backyard grilling has its own set of precautions.  Consider this scene: a party of adults and children are gathered poolside one summer afternoon.  Meat, coleslaw, condiments, etc. are set out on a platter while people socialize prior to the barbeque.  Children are running around.  The chef, who has consumed a couple of beers, decides it’s time to heat up the grill.  It is a warm, breezy day.  The chef opens the propane valve, opens the lid and flicks the automatic lighter.  At this point, you might have noticed a few potential problems. 

Has the chef cleaned the grill since its last use?  If not, he or she might experience a dangerous flame burst caused by grease and food particles that have built up on the briquettes, grill, and the barbeque interior.  As a rule, it is wise to scrub your grill with a stiff steel bristle brush and wipe off grease splatter after each use.  (A clean grill also prevents food from sticking.)  After several uses, it will likely be time to give your grill a top to bottom cleaning.  Wipe off the visible grease then use soapy water to clean up the residue.  If your briquettes are encrusted with food and burned oil, replace them.  If you have a gas barbeque, disconnect the gas and lift out the grill parts layer by layer.  Once you get down to the burners, make sure you inspect them thoroughly.  Be sure that the lines and connections are clean for even heating.  If you notice peeling paint or rust, touch up the spots with fresh, heat-resistant primer and paint.  Follow the manufacturer’s directions on the best way to clean and repair your unit. 

The second risk involves children playing near the barbeque.  They can easily become engrossed in their games and trip into the hot barbeque or knock over the chef causing burns and other injuries.  Young children are curious and want to watch and assist.  Ensure that little helpers are constantly supervised by another adult. 
A third risk is alcohol, which impairs reflexes and judgement.  Barbeque accidents have happened to people who are completely sober so imagine how the odds increase with too many drinks!

A fourth problem with this lovely summer scenario is the food itself.  Meat, fish and foods containing dairy or egg products should be refrigerated until they are ready to be cooked or eaten.  According to the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education,  pathogens and micro-organisms that cause food poisoning can multiply rapidly within a temperature zone of 4C (40F) to 60C (140F).  Reheating the food will not make it safe.  Also, avoid cross contamination by using a fresh platter for cooked meat and fish; never put cooked food onto a surface that held raw food.

Tips for everyone who enjoys barbequing

In general:
•    grill outdoors and never in a garage, tent or other enclosed area;
•    keep children and pets away from the barbeque area;
•    if you have a gas barbeque, never use lighter fluid (accelerant) on the grill
•    several feet away from the grill, keep a fire extinguisher (baking soda and sand can also work);
•    use long-handled tongs and brushes to keep you at a safer distance from the heat;
•    protect your deck or patio with a heat resistant composite cement grill pad.

Propane gas barbeques are efficient and convenient but there is a risk of explosion and fire when used improperly. 

When lighting your gas barbeque:

•    always open the lid before lighting so that gas does not build up;
•    open the cylinder valve first, then the burner and immediately use the ignition  switch or lighter;
•    if the burner does not ignite, with the lid open, turn off the gas and wait five minutes before trying again;
•    lastly, never smoke near a propane tank.

Canadian law requires that you replace your propane cylinder every 10 years unless it is inspected and re-qualified.  The date the cylinder was last qualified is stamped on the collar of the tank. 

Safe grilling!

*Source: “The Risks of Grilling”, Statistical Assessment Service, George Mason University, 2007

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