The sun is shining, evenings are getting longer, and the time has come for outdoor meals with families and friends. What’s more, if you have barbecues, there’s a good chance a man will grab the tongs and the burger and sausage flipping duties, leaving you free to sip sangria and chat with your girlfriends. But is BBQ food safe?
Obviously, there are some basic food safety rules that need to be observed whatever you cook. I’ll never forget watching a male tasting a marinade from a bowl filled with deadly raw chicken juice! But assuming that most people have a good idea of food safety and realise the dangers of raw meat, let’s concentrate on the dos and don’ts of barbecues.
Firstly, some people are worried that barbecued food causes cancer. The reason for this is that meat contains an organic acid called creatine, which when cooked turns into compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been shown to cause cancer when consumed in high concentrations. Although frying and grilling meat produces some of these substances, very hot barbecues can cause higher levels. In addition to this risk, when fat drops onto hot charcoal, it burns, and the smoke rises up to coat the meat. This smoke contains a lot of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), another group that are known to cause cancer.
This aside, most people don’t eat barbecued food often enough for these to be a measurable health risk, and even if you indulge every weekend, the sunshine and the alcohol you drink are probably more of a risk to your health than HCAs and PAHs.
Tips for safe barbecues
- A study has shown that spicy marinades reduce HCA formation, so bring on the flavour. Some spices, like pepper, can eliminate the HCAs produced by grilling, and delicious herbs and ingredients like thyme, sae and garlic and reduce them by up to 60%. Rosemary can achieve a reduction of up to 90%t
- Adding alcohol like red wine and marinating for six hours before grilling reduces carcinogens. Beer does the trick, too.
- Lower the temperature and cook meet more slowly. If you are worried, invest in a meat thermometer and check everything is cooked through.
- Precooking your meat in the microwave for a couple of minutes on medium power can decrease HCAs by 90%. Remember to discard the juices containing the HCAs.
- Grill some fruits and vegetables to accompany the meat. PAHs and HCAs don’t form on grilled fruits and vegetables and you’ll get a healthy dose of antioxidants.