Nothing says summer like the smell of a barbecue. And nothing spells danger like breaking the safety rules for a grill or smoker.
Although we're used to outdoor grilling pretty much all year round in Southern California, the more stable weather of spring and summer definitely whet the appetite for more cookouts.
Unfortunately, this also signals a rash of grill- and fire-related incidents. And with the fear of fires fresh in our minds, and the peak month of July just around the corner, it's time to review your knowledge of the basic safety rules.
First, it's worth knowing that last year the 2019 California Fire Code laid down some important restrictions on outdoor cooking over an open flame.
"Open-flame cooking devices can’t be operated on 'combustible balconies'," says the Code, which comes into force this year. "Wooden decks and similar structures can easily catch and spread fire, making them risky places to operate a BBQ grill."
Sprinkler-ed balconies are apparently okay (but check with your local fire department) -- though your rental lease may not allow grilling anyway.
The code also stipulates that active grills must be at least 10 feet from "combustible construction" -- meaning your home or other building.
The 10-feet rule is in fact one of the key safety measures all outdoor chefs should observe. Even further away if you can. And definitely not below an overhang or canopy of any sort. Every year, thousands of homes are damaged by barbecue-related incidents. More seriously, around 20,000 people end up in the ER with grill-related injuries.
14 More Grill Safety Tips
Most barbecues are gas type. And more fires and accidents happen with these rather than charcoal grills. So, with that I mind, here are 14 more safety steps you can take to ensure your cookout goes smoothly and safely:
- If you have a new grill, read the manufacturer's guide and safety instructions before starting.
- Before you start, if you're using a propane burner, check for leaks. Rub soapy water on the connector and hoses. Turn the gas on and check for bubbles.
- Check that it's stable, on a flat surface in a well-ventilated area. If it has wheels, they should be secured.
- Clean the grill before you start. The cuts and risk of flare-ups -- as well as making food tastier.
- Have a fire extinguisher close by and make sure you know how to use it.
- Always open the lid before you turn the gas on. If you leave it closed, there could be an accumulation of gas inside that explodes when you try to light it.
- Keep kids, pets and others away from your cooking. More than a third of all injuries happen to children under the age of 5. If you need to move away for any reason, have another adult supervise till you return.
- If the flame dies, don't immediately try to relight it. Turn off the gas and wait a few minutes before relighting.
- If you have a charcoal setup, be sure to only use charcoal started fluid. Don't be tempted to use any other flammable liquids.
- Dress appropriately (no loose sleeves or apron strings) and use long-handled cooking tools to keep your arms away from the flames.
- If your grill has electrical accessories, like a rotisserie. Take care with placement of cords -- otherwise, they're a tripping hazard.
- Shutdown as soon as you're done cooking. Or let charcoal cool down completely. You can soak charcoal briquettes in water. Don't try to lift anything that is still hot.
- If you store your grill indoors after everything is cooled, you must disconnect your LP cylinder and store that outside.
- Finally, if you have a fire, don’t waste time trying to put it out unless it's really minor. Instead, call 911 and bring in the professionals.
It's not just the risk of fire that presents a danger for outdoor cookers. There are also additional health risks associated with the way you store and cook food.
Food poisoning peaks in the summer when foodborne germs flourish. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers the following guidance for the safe preparation and handling of cookout food:
- Separate: Keep poultry, meat and seafood separate from other foods at all times -- whether in your shopping cart, your refrigerator or on-site at your grill. If you don’t do this, you risk cross-contamination.
- Chill: Keep the above products refrigerated until ready for use. If you're away from home, use an insulated cooler.
- Clean: Wash your hands with soap and water before starting and after handling meats and seafood.
- Keep your tools clean too -- again to avoid cross-contamination.
- Cook: Meat must be hot enough right through to kill bacteria. Use an external thermometer. Cuts of red meat and fish should be at least 145 degrees; hamburgers, hot dogs and poultry need to be 160 degrees.
- Refrigerate: If you have leftovers, divide these into small portions, place them in covered containers and place in the fridge or freezer within two hours. If it's very hot, think in terms of one hour instead.
A Key Line of Protection
As they say, accidents do happen, even with the most stringent of safety precautions. A wayward spark or a sudden distraction can lead to big trouble.
Personal safety is most important. Commonsense says you should protect people before property.
That being the case, it's important to have home insurance in place in case the worst happens.
This provides coverage for fire damage and, in most cases, will even pay for temporary accommodation, while repairs are carried out. It also provides liability coverage to protect against lawsuits and other claims for damage and bodily injury arising at your location.
If you don’t have home insurance or you want to check the extent and limits of your coverage, please speak to the team at Aldrich Taylor.
Now get out there and enjoy yourself -- safely!