Brush Up on Food Safety Before Firing Up the Grill

Grill masters, make sure you brush up on proper food safety practices before firing up the grill for the season to avoid food illness.

Warmer weather signifies the time for picnics, cookouts, and other outdoor parties. But eating outdoors in warmer weather presents a food safety challenge. Bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, which makes the basics of food safety especially important.

So whether you’re a weekend-only griller, or you fire up the grill on a daily basis, keep your food safe with these tips.

Grilling Like a PRO

P = Place the thermometer in the center of the food on the grill to record an internal temperature.
R = Read the temperature. Safe minimum cooking temperatures are:

  • Hamburgers, ground meats – 160° F
  • Chicken, poultry – 165–180° F
  • Medium-rare steak – 145° F
  • Medium steak – 160° F
  • Well-done steak – 170° F
  • Reheating cooked meats (e.g., hot dogs) – 165° F (or until steaming hot)

O = Off the grill. Place the cooked food a clean plate.

Grilling Tips to Prevent Food Illness

Keep It Clean.
It seems basic, but not everyone does it. Wash hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. If you’re in an outdoor setting with no bathroom, use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Consider carrying moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.

Marinate food in the refrigerator, not out on the counter.
And if you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a separate portion. Don’t reuse marinade that contained raw meat.

Keep raw food separate from cooked food.
Don’t use a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless the plate has first been washed in hot, soapy water. Keep utensils and surfaces clean.

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Cook food thoroughly.
To kill any harmful bacteria that may be present, use a food thermometer. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160°F. If a thermometer is not available, make sure hamburgers are brown all the way through, not pink. Chicken should be cooked to at least 165°F. If you partially cook food in the microwave, oven or stove to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.

Color alone does not guarantee safe food because food browns very fast. The only way to know whether meat is grilled to a safe internal temperature is to insert a food thermometer into the center of the food.

  • Hamburgers, ground meats – 160° F
  • Chicken, poultry – 165–180° F
  • Medium-rare steak – 145° F
  • Medium steak – 160° F
  • Well-done steak – 170° F
  • Reheating cooked meats (e.g., hot dogs) – 165° F (or until steaming hot)

Keep hot food hot.
Hot food should be kept at or above 140°F. Hot food should be wrapped well and placed in an insulated container. If bringing hot take-out food such as fried chicken or barbecue to an outdoor party, eat it within two hours of purchase. In addition to bringing a grill and fuel for cooking to an outdoor location, remember to pack a food thermometer to check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When re-heating food, be sure it reaches 165°F.

Keep food covered.
Keep food covered when you’re not eating it to prevent insects from making a snack of your meal. Bugs pick up germs on their feet and bodies and then deposit those germs wherever they land. If you see an insect crawling on your food, throw that piece away.

Keep cold food cold.
Cold food should be held at or below 40°F. Foods like chicken salad and desserts that are in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

CDC – Grill Safely Infographic


National Fire Protection Association – Grilling Food Safety Tips

This grilling season, NFPA tests your knowledge and demonstrates the proper way to use your grill safely to prevent fires.


Additional Food Safety Resources


Fact Sheets