Food and Grilling Safety

With more and more Americans spending time outdoors, it is no surprise that food safety and grilling are becoming more front-and-center in the news. Recent studies have revealed that if grilling is not done correctly, the food you grill and serve to your family could contain toxins, which can be dangerous to health.

Incorrect culinary preparation, particularly during barbecuing, could advance intake of toxins linked to many health problems such as heart and kidney disease, diabetes, vascular, and Alzheimer’s diseases. In fact, a recent study performed at Mount Sinai School of Medicine showed that levels of AGEs, a toxin called advanced glycation end products, are drawn into the blood stream by eating large quantities of food that is cooked by grilling, frying or broiling at temperatures that are considered too high. In otherwise healthy people, higher levels of AGEs were documented and linked to the consumption of foods prepared improperly.

What Causes Toxins in Food?

The study revealed that food preparation as well as the temperature by which the food is cooked has a direct correlation to the level of AGE toxins in food. In addition to the preparation methods of food, the study showed a significant relationship between the amount of AGEs in the diet and the level of AGEs in one’s blood. The amount of sugar, fat or calories consumed did not affect the AGE levels in the bloodstream as did the specific quantities of foods consumed which contain dangerous AGEs.

Along with the host of health problems listed, inflammation and stress have been documented to be related to high levels of AGEs in the bloodstream. Inflammation and stress are more prevalent in older individuals, therefore the purpose of the study was to determine whether AGEs played a considerable role in age-associated inflammation and stress by charting the AGE blood levels in young as well as elderly individuals.

The consequences of the study found that AGE levels could be extremely high in both the young participants of the study as well as the elderly participants. Indeed, high documented levels of AGE levels were found in some healthy adults in this research, which were on target with the AGE levels recognized in diabetic patients. The truth that hearty adults had levels resembling those seen in diabetic patients may insinuate that early and lasting exposure to AGE toxins in the diet could expedite the brunt of these diseases.

The presence of AGEs in food are very disingenuous because they give food an appealing smell and taste, according to Helen Vlassara, MD, Professor of Medicine and Geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and senior study author, Director of the Division of Experimental Diabetes and Aging. Dr. Vlassara refereed to the availability and intake of food with high levels of AGE with increasing documented cases of diabetes and heart disease.

How to Minimize AGE Intake When Cooking, Grilling and Eating

New barbecue grills on the market today should include a combination of ways to decrease the cooking duration and temperature, while at the same time increasing water retention.

Recommendations to reduce AGE levels in food include selecting lean foods like fish chicken or vegetables, instead of fatty meats like hamburgers or beef steaks.

Susan Goodman, a dietitian at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, recommends cooking fish, seafood or vegetables in aluminum pouches that are sealed. She says by preparing food in this manner the food is steamed, even if cooked on the grill. Foods which are excellent candidates for grilling in an aluminum pouch include vegetables such as potatoes and fresh fish with herbs which can be incorporated in the pouches for a healthy and tasty meal.

More recommendations from professionals who have studied the effects of grilling safety concur this. Tara Miller, Registered Dietitian and Program Manager for the Center for Corporate Wellness at NYU Medical Center recommends that grills be kept clean. It is imperative grills are cleaned prior to cooking because a charred grill increases food’s acclamation to dangerous toxins. Instead of marinating food with a bottled marinate or home-made rub, it is recommended that barbecue fans use vinegar, lime or lemon juice on the food prior to cooking. These items cause the food to cook faster, which in-turn allows the chef to reduce the temperature on the grill. Also, Miller makes it clear that acids from items such as vinegar, lime or lemon juice dwarf the transfer process of toxic AGEs into food.

Shopping Tips for Food Safety

Foods like meat and poultry should be added to the shopping cart immediately before checkout. This way, they have a higher tendency to remain cold. And be sure to sort raw meat and poultry separately so that they do not contaminate the other food in the shopping cart. To protect against cross-contamination which can occur when poultry and raw meat juices splash or leak on other foods, it is best to put the poultry and raw meat into plastic bags. For those that are worried about the effects of plastic bags on the environment, plastic bins with a tightly-sealed top can be brought from home to the store. The bins should be washed out with hot water and soap after removal of the meat so that the bins are safe to use again to the next grocery-store shopping excursion.

Thawing Meat

By completely thawing the meat and poultry prior to cooking, the food cooks more evenly which as an added benefit, cooks more quickly. Again, the goal is to lower the temperature on the grill so as to reduce introduction of AGE toxins. The best way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator so that the food is thawed slowly and safely. Another safe thawing alternative is to thaw food in sealed packages within cold water. If in a pinch, a microwave on defrost setting can be used to safely thaw meat as long as it is immediately cooked after thawing.

Skip the Grill

Grilling is a luxury, such as eating ice cream and cake. We are not recommending that you should skip grilling altogether, but grilling safety should be taken into consideration when planning the weekly menu. Health alternatives to grilling include boiling, steaming or stewing food.

A safe alternative to grilling is smoking food. In a professional food smoker, the cooking process is slow so that less tender meats benefit and the natural smoke flavor penetrates the food. The temperature of the smoker can be kept within a safe range of 250 to 300 degrees F.


Some studies indicate there may be a cancer risk associated with consuming foods that are prepared using very high-heat such as grilling, frying or broiling. However, based on recent studies, it has been found that eating moderate amount of foods such as fish, lean meat and poultry cooked at a safe temperature, without chairing, does not cause a risk.

Consult a Professional about Grilling Safety

If you have concerns about grilling safety and food safety, it is recommended that you consult a license dietitian or health care provider.