Take caution when preparing food al fresco this summer.
An Irish summer is typified by several things - Wimbledon, garden parties, unpredictable weather and, of course, barbecues (I know it's summer when my neighbours cook sausages on their terrace and my flat smells like charred ruins).
But there's a darker side to the barbecue. They can in fact be the cause of many cases of food poisoning as hygiene rules are often overlooked.
The typical foods that we barbecue - meat, chicken - are often left out of the fridge for a while waiting for the coals to warm which increases the chance of spoiling. Added to this, we tend to barbecue foods at a high temperature, leaving goods charred on the outside but not cooked through. Lastly, tongs used to handle raw food are then used to dish out the cooked ones, which again gives rise to unwanted bacteria.
Charred food is also an issue. Burnt food gives rise to two substances that could be carcinogenic - although that's still being debated. Both heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are produced when food is burned, and as much of the flavour of barbecued food comes from the charred parts there is a reason to be cautious.
That said, the British summer often means that barbecues can be a rarity and so one should perhaps be mindful rather than seriously worried.
Here are some simple rules that can help make eating al fresco memorable for the right reasons:
1. Have more than one set of tongs - one for raw and one for cooked foods.
2. Keep the meat and fish in the fridge as long as possible before cooking.
3. Let the coals warm through so they have an orange glow rather than still flaming. Fat will inevitably drip onto the coals causing flames, but just move the food around so that it's not exposed to flames more than is necessary.
4. To avoid serving undercooked food, try microwaving it for a couple of minutes before placing on the grill. Microwaves cook from the inside and so are perfect for counteracting potential raw food. You can also cook in an oven at a low temperature and then finish the food off on the barbecue.
5. Move food to the outer edges of the grill so that they are not directly above the coals or flames, and cover the barbecue to keep the heat in.
As seen on Telegraph.co.uk