Outdoor grills have been around for a long time, and over the years we have become more informed about how to grill safely and avoid bacteria. We take all kinds of precautions with our food, but what about the grill itself?
Food illnesses from bacteria contamination can be unpleasant and even deadly. That's why we wash our hands when handling food and scrub potatoes, carrots and other veggies to remove any dirt before cutting or grilling. We know that most meats need to be cooked thoroughly and that the plate we use for raw meat cuts needs to be washed before we put grilled items on it.
So do we need to take special precautions with our grills to be sure there are no bacteria harboring on the surfaces under that cover?
Safe and Self-Cleaning
Fortunately, normal grilling procedures usually do the work for us. Bacteria is killed by heat, and just by firing up that grill and getting the grate hot, then cooking our food properly, any bacteria that might have been around are eliminated.
Of course, it helps if you clean your grill regularly. There is some debate over whether it's best to clean grills before or after use, and from a safety perspective, some suggest it's best to get the grate clean while the fire is still hot and then close the cover to let everything bake for a bit while the grill cools down. That way any caked on food is removed and the heat is able to reach all areas of the grill grates.
But in reality, even if you clean your grill just prior to using it, and then wait until it is hot before putting food on the grate, the heat will have eliminated any bacteria, and will continue to do so while the food cooks. In this way, grills are pretty self-cleaning.
Other Areas to Consider
There are a couple other areas related to grills where bacteria can form. The first is the other surfaces of your grill, such as side shelves and dry sinks. It is important to wash these areas with a disinfectant regularly, especially if you are in the habit of setting meat packages on them while grilling.
Another place bacteria might build up is your grill utensils, such as flippers, forks, and grill baskets. These items sometimes have nooks and crannies where bacteria can lodge, and most backyard chefs typically don't leave the utensils in the grill's direct heat when cooking, so they may not be sanitary unless they are washed before each use.
One of the beauties of outdoor cooking is that grills are basically self-cleaning. A few good swipes with the grill brush and then let it sit with the heat on and the cover down, and any nasty bacteria are eliminated.
Add in some common sense food handling precautions and a bit of basic housekeeping for other grill-related areas, and grills are one of the safest, healthiest, and enjoyable ways to cook.