Going To A Barbecue?
Rain Isn't The Biggest Risk
By Alan Mozes
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - With the Independence Day holiday here, millions of Americans are taking out their grills for a traditional weekend barbecue. But while most people just worry about bad weather spoiling their outdoor fun, researchers raise a more important concern: Experts caution that high-heat grilling of meat, fish and poultry can produce cancer-causing substances.
``We're not telling people never grill, but rather when you grill...there are things that you can do to cut down on the formation of carcinogenic substances,'' said Melanie Polk, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR is the third largest cancer charity in the US, focusing particularly on the relationship between diet and cancer.
Polk and her colleagues at AICR point out that grilling and broiling any of the so-called ``muscle meats'' typically causes fat to drip onto the hot coals or stones. This burnt fat forms a class of carcinogens that is reabsorbed by the food when the smoke and flames char or blacken the meat. The researchers also note that high-heat grilling causes these same foods to produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are also carcinogenic.
The AICR issued a list of recommendations to help consumers avoid the cancer-causing by-products of BBQing. They suggest that people consume such grilled meats in moderation, adding or substituting them with grilled vegetables and fruits, which pose no similar health risks. In addition, only lean cuts of meat should be used, trimming off fat and skin before grilling and removing charred portions after grilling to reduce risk. The researchers also advise against piercing the meat with forks while grilling--which allows the juices and fat to drip into the coals--and suggest turning the food with tongs or spatulas instead.
Other AICR tips include:
-- partially pre-cooking the meats in a microwave and placing the meat on the BBQ only briefly for flavor, to reduce grill exposure;
-- and marinating the food with vinegar, citrus juice, herbs and spices prior to grilling, to reduce development of HCAs.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Polk said that while researchers do not have all the preventative answers, there are clearly some steps to take that can lower the cancer risk associated with grilling. ``There are things that we can do to cut down on the formation of carcinogenic substances when we grill,'' she said. ``Recent research suggests that marinating, for example, can help decrease carcinogenic substance formations. This is relatively new so we don't know why it works exactly, but it seems that it can be helpful. It doesn't have to be any specific type or length of time of marination.''
And Polk added that the advantage of grilling non-meat foods goes beyond the absence of fat. ``Carcinogenic substance only form on high-protein foods such as meats, so grilling vegetables and fruits is fine--and, in fact, with the anti-cancer substances that are contained in these foods this might be a great thing to do along with whatever else you serve.''
Joining Polk and the AICR's effort to make grilling safe, the Partnership for Food Safety Education sound a further cautionary note with their ``FightBAC!'' campaign. This advisory specifically targets the threat of food contamination with bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.
They suggest that grillers carefully wash their hands before food-handling; use disposable towelettes and paper towels for cleaning surfaces; and use a meat thermometer to make sure that red meats and poultry are cooked sufficiently.
Recommended cooking temperatures are between 145 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for large cuts of meat, and 160 degrees F for hamburgers. Cook skinless, boneless poultry breasts to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F; bone-in breasts to 170 degrees F; and drumsticks, thighs and legs to 180 degrees F. Also, keep raw meats separated in sealed containers, using separate cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination.

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