Great Balls Of Fire! It’s A Cookout!


charcoal-grill.jpgAlong about this time of year, the males of our species come out of their mancaves, grab some audacious meat (or even some humble veggies), fire up the grill and prepare to impress women and children with their barbecuing prowess. We don’t mean to sound chauvinistic, but surveys report that men are twice as likely to wield the tongs as women. Nevertheless, we hope the following information will be useful to both guys and gals at the grill.

There’s no doubt that cooking out is a great American pastime. Neither is there a doubt that it is dangerous, with a huge potential for grilling injuries. Consider:

  • The Hearth, Patio, Barbecue Association says that in 2011 more than 14 million grills and smokers were shipped in North America. Over the past 10 years, nearly 155 million grills and smokers were shipped in North America. So there’s a lot of outdoor cooking going on out there.
  • 86 percent of North American households own a grill or smoker, and nearly one fourth of them own two grills.
  • According to estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2009 nearly 18,000 people were sent to U.S. emergency rooms because of grilling-related accidents.
  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2004 and 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to nearly 8,000 home fires involving barbecues, grills, smokers or hibachis.

Whether the grill you are using is fueled by gas, charcoal, or even wood, the following safety tips from FEMA apply:

  • Never leave a barbecue grill unattended.
  • Place the grill well away from siding, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches. Don’t use or store on a porch or balcony.
  • Place the grill a safe distance from lawn games, play areas and foot traffic.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area. Have a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around the grill.
  • Put out several long-handled grilling tools to give the chef plenty of clearance from heat and flames when cooking food.
  • Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below grill so it cannot be ignited by a hot grill.
  • Use only outdoors! If used indoors, or in any enclosed spaces, such as tents, barbecue grills pose both a fire hazard and a risk of exposing occupants to carbon monoxide.

Which cooks better–gas or charcoal? We won’t get into that debate; the important thing to recognize is that propane is the power source in 69 percent of all grill fires on residential properties. In situations where a person was injured while using a gas grill, roughly a third were burned while lighting the grill.

Some of problems lie with the grills themselves. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued numerous recalls, 24 of them since 2005, for gas grill problems ranging from faulty burners to missing hoses to incorrect heat shields.

  • In 2009, the CPSC recalled about 663,000 grills sold at Lowe’s stores because of bad burners.
  • In 2012, about 37,000 Master Forge gas grills sold at Lowe’s were recalled due to concerns over the grill’s fuel hose.
  • In April 2012, leaky propane gas regulators caused the CPSC to recall 87,000 units of STOK gas grills sold at Home Depot.
  • 4,500 portable gas grills (sold as both Uni-O O-Grills and Tailgate Gear by LL Bean, Walgreens, Dick’s Sporting Goods and others) were recalled in 2012 because of leaky gas regulators.

FEMA provides the following safety tips for propane grillers:

  • Check the propane cylinder hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year. A light soap and water solution applied to the hose will reveal escaping propane quickly by releasing bubbles.
  • If you determined your grill has a gas leak by smell or the soapy bubble test and there is no flame, turn off the propane tank and grill. If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.
  • If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not attempt to move the grill.
  • All propane cylinders manufactured after April 2002 must have overfill protection devices (OPD). OPDs shut off the flow of propane before capacity is reached, limiting the potential for release of propane gas if the cylinder heats up. OPDs are easily identified by their triangular-shaped hand wheel.
  • Use only equipment bearing the mark of an independent testing laboratory. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions on how to set up the grill and maintain it.
  • Never store propane cylinders in buildings or garages. If you store a gas grill inside during the winter, disconnect the cylinder and leave it outside.
  • Light a propane grill only with the cover open.

With charcoal grills, gasoline or lighter fluid is a factor in about a quarter of burn injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. That usually happens when would-be grillers get impatient with charcoal that seems to be taking too long to light and decide to add fuel to the flames. Bad idea!
Here are FEMA’s safety rules for using a charcoal grill:

  • Purchase the proper starter fluid and store out of reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals or kindling have already been ignited, and never use any flammable liquid other than charcoal starter fluid to get the fire going.
  • Dispose of charcoal coals only after they are cool. Empty the coals into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid that is used only to collect coals. Place the container away from anything that can burn. Never empty coals directly into a trash can.

So just when you think you’ve made it safely past all the barbecue pit pitfalls – there have been no sudden conflagrations, your house is not on fire, you still have your eyebrows and the same amount of hair you started with – guess what . . . you may have made one tiny mistake. If you used a wire brush to clean the grill before you started, there could be a tiny bristle hidden in the char you worked so hard to achieve on that ribeye. And it could cause serious injuries when it goes through the lips and over the gums.

In July of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control urged emergency rooms to be on the lookout for internal injuries caused by accidental ingestion of wire grill-cleaning brush bristles. There were numerous reports of people experiencing abdominal pain from wire bristles’ poking through the small intestine or colon or throat pain from the bristles’ getting stuck in the neck. The injuries required surgery.

Experts recommend that you use a moist cloth or paper towel to clean cooled grates. If you use a wire brush, replace it every two or three months. After cleaning the grill, Inspect the surface for any remaining wire bristles.

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