Reduce carcinogenic effects of grilled food by taking precautions while cooking.
Cookouts bring lots of opportunities to enjoy good food. And because they also bring opportunities for food-borne illnesses, extra care is required in selecting and preparing foods bound for the grill.
Studies by the National Cancer Institute have shown that chemicals created during high-temperature cooking of certain muscle meats (beef, pork, poultry and even fish) can increase human risk for cancer, including cancer of the stomach and colon. These heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are classified as carcinogenic compounds by the Food and Drug Administration.
Temperature and rate of doneness are contributing factors to the creation of HCAs during cooking. The NCI reports researchers found that people who ate beef cooked medium-well or well-done had more than three times the risk of stomach cancer than those who ate the same meats rare or medium-rare.
Additional risks are posed by grilled meats that are exposed to smoke resulting from fat dripping onto a heat source, such as hot coals. This smoke has been shown to contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known to be carcinogens.
So what’s a cookout-lover to do? All is not lost. For a safer barbecue:
- Select lean cuts of meat to reduce the risk of smoke from dripping fat; remove skin from chicken before cooking.
- To minimize fat dripping onto hot coals, place meat on aluminum foil pierced with small holes.
- Scrub the grill rack thoroughly after every use.
- Oil the grill rack before cooking on it.
- Precook foods to reduce the length of time they need to be on the grill.
- Marinate meats before cooking. A study published in the Journal of Food Science in July 2008 showed marinating reduced the formation of HCAs. Marinades infused with herbs, such as garlic, basil, rosemary, oregano and thyme, were found to be particularly effective—not to mention, very tasty.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure meats are cooked to a safe internal temperature. (See “Grilled Right” below.)
- Remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- If you marinate your meats, keep in mind that the marinade is considered a raw food. Discard the marinade after using—don’t return the grilled meat to it. If you want to save it for sauce, bring it to a boil in a saucepan for one minute.
- Wash platters and utensils that have touched raw meat before reusing.
Prevent food-borne illnesses by cooking meat correctly using these USDA-recommended safe internal temperatures for meats.
- Poultry: 165 degrees F (whole, ground, parts)
- Pork: 160 degrees F
- Fish: 145 degrees F
- Beef, veal and lamb:
- 145 degrees (steaks and roasts)
- 160 degrees F (ground)