More than half of Northern Ireland’s home cooks are putting friends and family at risk of food poisoning because they don’t know how to barbecue meat to the correct temperature, according to a survey.

Research by Safefood found more than half of 1,000 adults surveyed in July in Northern Ireland believe that the hardest part is knowing when meat is cooked thoroughly, with almost half saying the most challenging aspect is trying not to burn food.

More than four in 10 home cooks have burned barbecue meats outside, while they were still raw in the center, and 39 percent undercooked food.

The agency, which promotes food safety and nutrition in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, said almost 1 in 5 people find it challenging to separate barbecue cooking utensils from raw and cooked foods.

Meat thermometer push
Safefood is encouraging people to use a meat thermometer to take the guesswork out of cooking during a barbecue, especially with the August bank holiday weekend approaching.

The agency advised chefs to double-check check their burgers, chicken, and sausages are cooked to 75 degrees C (167 degrees F) on the barbecue grill. Only one in four home cooks said they use a meat thermometer to ensure they get the temperature of barbecued meats right before serving them to family and guests.

Linda Gordon, chief specialist in food science at Safefood, said the research found a low level of meat thermometer ownership and usage.

“We also know that people perceive meat thermometers as being expensive or only used by expert cooks. However, you can purchase one for as little as £8 to 10 ($9 to $11) in home retail and hardware stores and they are so easy to use and the most accurate way of checking for doneness,” she said. 

Survey respondents said the main food safety measures used to check if barbecue meat is prepared properly are cutting into it to see if it seems cooked, looking to see if juices run clear, and checking if there is no pink meat, found the survey. None of those methods can accurately determine whether food is safe to eat.

A similar campaign was run in 2021 and past research found that one in 10 home chefs said guests got sick after eating meat that hadn’t been cooked properly.

Avoid making people sick
Gary Kearney, the interim CEO of Safefood, said it was important to cook meats correctly.

“Take your food off the heat, pop the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and when it reaches 75 degrees Celsius, then it’s cooked and ready to eat. Using a meat thermometer adds that extra layer of reassurance. If you’re cooking steaks, these can be cooked to preference,” he said.

Supporting the campaign are radio presenter, Jordan Humphries, and local chef, Ben Arnold.

“Our enduring love affair with barbecued meats means a real risk of food poisoning if we aren’t temperature aware. Serving up food that isn’t cooked properly is every home cook’s worst nightmare. To avoid a complete barbecue cooking disaster that could make friends and family sick, we would encourage everyone to up their grill game by using a meat thermometer,” they said.

Safefood’s advice includes keeping foods like salads, coleslaw, and quiche in the fridge until they are ready to be served; when handling raw meat and poultry, wash hands thoroughly and frequently and before preparing salads and other ready-to-eat foods; once the meat is cooked thoroughly, keep it away from raw meat and use separate chopping boards, cooking utensils and plates for meats and ready-to-eat foods such as raw vegetables, and allow leftovers to cool before putting in the fridge but refrigerate them within two hours of cooking.

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