OGDEN -- It's time to fire up the grill, but before you sink your teeth into that juicy hamburger, there are a few things to consider about your safety.
According to experts at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, all that sizzling and flipping on the grill may be creating more than a delicious meal. It could also be cooking up cancer-causing chemicals. But that doesn't mean you should throw out the grill. If you use the proper safety tips and plan carefully, your risk of getting cancer from grilling food is very low.
There are two risk factors when it comes to cooking outdoors. First, research shows that high heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, pork, poultry and fish into heterocyclic amines. These are chemicals which have been linked to a number of cancers.
"There's an association between these and risk of colon and stomach cancer," said McKay-Dee Hospital registered dietician Grant Cefalo.
When meats are cooked at high temperatures, the shape of the protein structure changes, making it a carcinogenic chemical.
Another cancer-causing agent is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which is found in the smoke. PAHs form when fat and juices from the meat drips onto the heat source. As the smoke rises, it can stick to the surface of the meat.
"That's where the main cancer-causing compound occurs in grilling," said Stacy Kennedy, a nutritionist at the Institute. "So you want to reduce the exposure to that smoke."
Cefalo said there are several things you can do to minimize your risk. First, cook at medium temperatures. Marinating can also decrease the amount of HCAs produced, especially if they contain vinegar or lemon. You can also turn the meat more frequently.
"Do not overcook your meats," he said. "Well done meats have higher-levels of cancer-causing agents."
In addition, the institute recommends choosing lean cuts of meats over high-fat varieties such as ribs and sausage. In addition, trim all excess fat and remove the skin.
Always thaw your meat first and partially cook it in the microwave for 60 to 90 seconds on high before grilling. Discard extra juices, which will reduce the risk of smoke flare-ups.
"Clean the grill before you cook on it," Cefalo said. "Grill meats on both sides and keep the food warm or cold as needed."
If you're cooking vegetables on the grill, don't worry about them being charred.
"People are surprised, but you can safely eat charred vegetables," Kennedy said. "They have different proteins that are not affected the same way as the meat protein."
And don't forget to follow other basic safety rules to avoid becoming a statistic.
Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 18,000 emergency-room visits related to grilling accidents.
Those accidents were largely due to burns from using the wrong kind of fuel, wearing improper clothing, using matches to start an electric grill, cooking under the influence and not monitoring the grill.
Grilling also contributed to 8,200 house fires last year.