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Cooked on the inside, but not charred on the outside: BfR web film on the art of grilling

24/2016, 22.06.2016

"100 seconds of BfR" provides information about the health risks associated with grilling

Just in time for the beginning of summer, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is to publish on its website, a new web film on the subject of "grilling". In this episode of the series "100 seconds of BfR", consumers learn what they should watch out for when grilling meat, sausages and fish in order to avoid health risks. "The art of grilling comes down to slow cooking at low heat", explains BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "The meat should be completely cooked on the inside without however being charred on the outside." Hygienic handling and correct chilling of foods are important aspects of grilling in the summer, too.

During the warm season, the risk of food poisoning is particularly high, since pathogens in the food can rapidly multiply. This notably applies to raw foods of animal origin such as meat, sausages and fish. To ensure that all germs are killed, the meat must invariably be thoroughly cooked. In neck steaks this is for example indicated by the color change in the core of the meet from pink-red to gray.

On the other hand, the grilled food should not be charred due to excessive heat. Unwanted substances may occur during the process such as heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) which are suspected carcinogens. To ensure that the meat is completely cooked on the inside without charring on the outside, it should not be exposed to overly high temperatures but be cooked slowly at low heat. For this purpose, make sure the barbecue grill sits at a high level and scatter the charcoal in such a way that the meat to be cooked is not directly above the ember.

Hygienic handling of foods is important when barbecuing. In particular, raw animal-derived foods must not come into contact with ready-to-eat foods which will not be reheated before consumption. This means that consumers should always keep raw and marinated meat and fish well chilled and store and prepare them separately from vegetables and salads. Raw barbecue meat should be touched with different tongues from the ones used for cooked meats. Additionally, meat and salad sauces should be well chilled and served only shortly before the meal. Since salmonella can multiply rapidly at temperatures above 7 °C, consumers should avoid raw eggs, for example for mayonnaise and desserts, in times of warm temperatures.

During grilling, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can form, when fat or oil drips into the ember. To prevent this, grilling trays can be used, which catch any liquids. It is possible that aluminium ions enter the food from the grilling tray. However, according to the assessment of the risks, the BfR is of the opinion, that the use of aluminium trays is a reasonable option. In order to minimise the transfer of aluminium to the food, the barbecued food items should, where possible, only be salted and seasoned at the end of the grilling process, as aluminium becomes soluble in contact with salt and acid.

Meat and sausage products that contain nitrite curing salt should not be barbecued at all. In case of packed items, the list of ingredients must state whether for example nitrite is one of the ingredients contained in the food. Heating of food that contains nitrites favors the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.

The film "100 seconds of BfR" on the subject of grilling can be accessed on the BfR website at Further information on the subject of grilling can be found in the FAQs published by the BfR:

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.




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