5 grilling mistakes that pose a danger to your health

Beef ribs cooking on a grill. Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Beef ribs cooking on a grill. Wendy Maeda/Globe StaffCredit:

Odd grilling mishaps have been making the news lately. Several people were injured from swallowing the bristles of grill brushes that became imbedded in their burgers and steaks, requiring surgical removal, according to a recent report from a Rhode Island hospital that saw six such cases. The report was published this week in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal.

And did you hear about the guy from Stow who said he caught on fire back in May after spraying on sunscreen and then approaching his grill? Most likely, he sprayed the sunscreen on while standing directly in front of the grill, said Dr. Joshua Kosowsky, clinical director of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “The idea that you can be flammable just by wearing sunscreen that’s been on already is probably false,” he said, but any aerosol spray you use near a grill can turn into a blowtorch.

He identified five dangerous mistakes many of us make when using grills and how to avoid them.

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1. Not wiping down grills. While Kosowsky hasn’t seen any cases of swallowed wire bristles in his ER, he said it’s always a possibility since the bristles can fall off the brush and are hard to spot on the surface of the grill. Make sure to wipe off the grill with a wet cloth to catch any wayward bristles just before lighting.

2. Thinking burnt on the outside means cooked on the inside. “Burgers, steaks, and chicken should be cooked to 160 degrees on the inside,” said Kosowsky, to avoid food poisoning. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, make sure the meat or poultry is fully cooked by cutting into it; the flesh shouldn’t be pink, and the juices should run clear, not red.

3. Spraying on Pam after the grill is already lit. I admit I’ve done this occasionally even as I watch the flames surge with every spray. It’s a real burn hazard, said Kosowsky. Those non-stick cooking sprays should be sprayed on before lighting. If you’re spraying on sunscreen or bug spray while outdoors, make sure you’re standing at least 10 feet away from the grill to avoid the blowtorch effect.

4. Moving grills into the garage when it rains. Doing any grilling indoors such as in a kitchen or closed garage can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Moving a grill to a lean-to or open covered area during a storm is fine, however, since they have proper ventilation.

5. Leaving a grill unattended. Fire departments respond to nearly 8,000 grill fires every year, often caused by using lighter fluid to light a gas grill—a no-no—or leaving a grill unattended for more than a few minutes. If those pieces of chicken catch fire, flames can leap up and spread to the side of a house or into the yard. To prevent accidents, never leave your charcoal grill unattended for more than a few minutes at a time. If the food on the grill catches fire, shut the lid if you can reach it without burning yourself, turn off the gas (if the grill isn’t charcoal), and allow the fire to burn out. You may also want to keep a bucket of sand nearby to smother the fire if necessary in severe cases.

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