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BBQ mishaps that could ruin your Fourth of July weekend

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This Fourth of July weekend, millions of Americans will be gathering with family and friends for backyard barbecues. But before you fire up the grill this holiday, there are some safety risks you should take note of.

From food poisoning to accidental fires, preventable dangers could put you and your guests at risk. Click through for some expert advice to help everyone safely enjoy your next cookout...

Prep smart


Avoiding food poisoning starts way before your barbecue even begins. When grocery shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry right before check-out and separate these items from other foods in your cart. To avoid cross-contamination, place meat and poultry into their own plastic bags so their juices won't drip on other food.

At home, refrigerate meat and poultry immediately and freeze portions that won't be used within one or two days. Before grilling, thaw completely so it cooks more easily. The safest way to thaw meat is to place it in the refrigerator or in sealed packages in cold water. The microwave can also be used for quicker thawing.

Using marinades

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If you'd like to marinate your meat, do so in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated safely for up to two days, while beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to five days. To use marinade as a sauce, reserve a portion of the marinade before placing raw meat or poultry in it, or make sure to bring it to a boil before you serve to make sure harmful bacteria are destroyed.

Cook food thoroughly

Keep food cold until ready to grill. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping plenty of clean utensils and platters handy and not reusing them when handling different raw meat and poultry products.

To kill harmful bacteria and avoid illness, use a food thermometer to ensure food is cooked thoroughly and has reached a safe internal temperature.

The USDA recommends the following minimal internal temperatures:

  • Whole poultry: 165 °F
  • Poultry breasts: 165 °F
  • Ground poultry: 165 °F
  • Ground meats: 160 °F
  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 °F and allow to rest at least 3 minutes.

Never partially grill meat or poultry and return to cooking it later.

Keep food hot until served, at 140° F or warmer, and serve with clean utensils -- never ones that touched raw meat or poultry.

Beware of wire bristles

A man cleaning grill grates with a wire brush. Metal brush bristles can get into food and cause serious health problems if swallowed. Alexey Stiop

If you clean your grill with a wire-bristle brush, you may be unknowingly putting yourself and your guests at risk.

Earlier this year, a study conducted at the University of Missouri School of Medicine found more than 1,600 injuries from wire-bristle grill brushes reported in emergency rooms since 2002.

Loose bristles can easily fall off the brush during cleaning and end up in food, which if eaten, can cause injuries in the mouth, throat, and tonsils, the study authors warn.

"Wire-bristle brush injuries are a potential consumer safety issue, so it is important that people, manufacturers and health providers be aware of the problem," Dr. David Chang, associate professor of otolaryngology at the MU School of Medicine, said in a statement. "If doctors are unaware that this problem exists, they may not order the appropriate tests or capture the correct patient history to reach the right diagnosis."

Chang recommends the following tips to avoid potential injuries:

  • Use caution when cleaning grills with wire-bristle brushes, examining brushes before each use and discarding if bristles are loose.
  • Inspect your grill's cooking grates before cooking, or use alternative cleaning methods such as nylon-bristle brushes or balls of tin foil.
  • Inspect grilled food carefully after cooking to make sure bristles are not stuck to the food.

Avoid fires

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According to the National Fire Protection Association, an average of 8,900 home fires are caused by grilling each year, with July being the peak month.

To prevent fires associated with barbecuing, keep grills well away from homes and deck railings. Safely turn on the grill by first opening the lid, turn on the propane tank, switch on the grill burner, and push the ignition button (if you have one). If the grill doesn't ignite, let gas dissipate for at least five minutes before trying again.

When you're finished, to keep excess gas from leaking out, turn the gas tank off first, then turn off the grill burners.

How to handle leftovers

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In very hot weather, food should never sit out for more than an hour, and in general, toss food that has been sitting out longer than two hours. If you want to save food as leftovers, refrigerate promptly in shallow containers.

More summer safety tips:

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