7 Tips for a Safe, Healthy Cookout

Mosquitoes, weight gain, E. coli, oh my! With barbecue season in full swing, you may be wondering how it's possible to make your next outdoor feast safe and healthy without sacrificing flavor and fun. If you heed the following tips, you'll find that taking the proper precautions and having a good time needn't be mutually exclusive.

1. Keep It Clean. Some of the quickest ways to transmit foodborne bacteria are by failing to wash your hands often, working in a contaminated prep area, or using utensils, platters, and cutting boards for a variety of purposes. After you handle raw meat or go to the bathroom, remember to wash your hands before continuing to cook. Keep your prep area clean by frequently wiping it down with warm water and a dash of bleach. Assign each utensil to a specific dish, and if you're going to reuse a platter or cutting board, wash it off beforehand.  

2. Skin 'em. By removing the skin from chicken, you'll eliminate about two-thirds of its fat content. You can ensure the chicken will still be juicy and delicious by cutting a handful of small slits in the meat before marinating it for at least six to eight hours. And when grilling the meat, resist the urge to continually press down on it, which can dry it out.

3. Replace Chips With Crudité. Provide a plate of fresh, raw vegetables as an enticing alternative to fatty chips. Pair it with guacamole, hummus, or salsa, and you may even score some crudité converts, who will be saving themselves hundreds of additional calories by avoiding the chips and dip.

4. Give Your Fruits and Veggies a Bath. To remove any microorganisms or pesticides that might be clinging to fruits and vegetables, thoroughly wash them off before serving. Even if you plan to peel them, you should still give them a good scrub because a microbe lurking on the skin of just one vegetable can contaminate the peeler and affect other vegetables.  

5. Mind the Temperature. A food thermometer can be a barbecuer's best friend. By checking the internal temperature of meat before you plate it-the United States Department of Agriculture recommends a temperature of 145° F for steaks and fish, 160° F for pork and ground beef, and 165° F for chicken-you can ensure that your food is safe to eat (and free of E. coli bacteria).

6. Add Some Garlic. This member of the onion family is not only a delicious addition to marinades and a variety of dishes and condiments; it may also help in the fight against cancer. Additionally, research has shown that garlic contains antibacterial properties and can reduce cholesterol levels.

7. Set Out a Few Citronella Candles. Mosquitoes can breed in as little as one centimeter of water, so they can thrive just about anywhere, waiting to turn your cookout into a feast of their own. Mosquitoes can be carriers of diseases such as West Nile virus, so it's especially important to keep them at bay. To do this, set out a few citronella candles in your general area.