The weather is glorious and barbecue smells have started drifting over fences each evening, awakening the cooking instincts of men through the neighbourhood. There’s something primal about barbecues that appeals to men. Perhaps the smell of cooking steak sparks a link back to caveman ancestors who hunted woolly mammoths and tossed chunks of meat into the coals of a fire to sizzle. Although women can be excellent outdoor cooks, it’s widely accepted as the territory of men. A bloke with only a hazy idea of how to operate the kitchen appliances will confidently stride outside to the barbie, briskly snap his tongs and start turning sausages. We have the perfect recipe of great weather mixed with an outdoor lifestyle but unfortunately the summer barbecue season is also linked to a rise is food poisoning cases.
Food poisoning is usually mild and most people recover quickly but it can be severe or even deadly, especially to children, older people and those with weakened immune systems, so the risks must be taken seriously. A quick review of food safety is worthwhile as the barbie season hots up. The big risks are undercooked meat and germs spreading from raw meat onto food that’s ready to eat. Raw and undercooked meat can contain germs that cause food poisoning, such as salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter – but the germs can be killed by cooking meat right through.
The most basic step is to wash hands. It’s especially important after handling raw meat because germs can easily move onto your hands and then anything else you touch, including food that is cooked and ready to eat. This cross contamination also happens when people walk out to the barbie with a plate of raw meat and then put the food back on the same plate once it has been cooked. The raw meat juices mix with the cooked meat and can lead to an uncomfortable night clutching the loo bowl. This rookie mistake can easily be avoided if there are plenty of clean utensils and platters outside, ready to use. It’s also important to keep some types of food cool because the bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply quickly in warm temperatures.
Always keep raw meat cold and don’t leave salads, dairy products, dips, cooked meat and rice out in the sun for long. Put them in the fridge. Then, the rules are the same for cooking any kind of meat whether it’s chicken, pork, steak or burgers. Make sure your barbie is hot, frozen meat has been properly thawed and turn or move it around regularly to cook it evenly. Meat is safe to eat when it is hot right through to the middle, there is no pink meat and any juices run clear. Of course, lots of people like to eat their steak or lamb rare and nicely pink in the centre and that’s fine as long as the outside has been properly cooked because that will kill any bacteria that might be on it.
But poultry and minced meat like sausages and burgers should be thoroughly cooked all the way through. Finally, keep fire safety in mind. Make sure your barbecue is level and steady, away from plants and trees. Keep your barbecue properly maintained and check gas cylinders and connections. Have a garden hose or supply of water ready and use the barbecue in a wellventilated area so no one is breathing nasty fumes and gas. Maybe our hunter ancestors never worried about health and safety when they chucked a mammoth steak on a campfire – but maybe they did. If they invited a nearby tribe for dinner and made everyone sick it could have ended in war.