A Fourth of July barbecue has become a national tradition and as American as the apple pie dessert that follows. Although your family’s barbecue has been a set routine every year, Alison Pittman, clinical assistant professor and pediatric nurse with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, gives her take on making sure this year’s barbecue is one to remember—in a good way.
Prepare for the weather
If you plan on staying out in the heat, make sure your outfit is properly suited for the elements. Light-colored and breathable clothes with a pair of sunglasses will help your body adjust to the heat and keep you cool throughout the day.
“Keep track of the heat index,” Pittman said. “Have your barbecue earlier or later in the day so you aren’t in the peak heat wave hours.”
Be sure to have plenty of sunscreen and mosquito spray on hand. Whether you choose SPF 15 or 60, be sure to follow the instructions to know how much to apply and when to reapply.
During the summer, mosquitos are more likely to be active, so be sure to wear insect repellent when going outside. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using products with DEET or picaridin in coordination with the label.
One of the most important things you can do when outside for extended periods of time is drink enough water. Whether you’re manning the grill or going for a swim, it is easy to get dehydrated.
If your barbecue has alcohol, make sure you’re drinking a glass of water in between drinks. “Alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages are diuretics,” Pittman said. “They will cause dehydration faster than normal.”
Be sure to look out for symptoms of dehydration. If you start feeling light-headed, dizzy or feel like you are sweating too much, go inside for a bit or find some shade with a bottle of water.
“If you wait until you’re thirsty, you’re probably already mildly dehydrated,” Pittman said. “Remind yourself and children to drink plenty of water throughout the day.”
Fix food safely
Keeping a clean grill and food station is important to making sure your barbecue doesn’t end up causing everyone to call in sick the next day. Take precautions to make sure your meat is cooked thoroughly and avoid cross-contamination.
“Buying a meat thermometer is a very simple way to make sure your food gets properly cooked,” Pittman said. “Use your thermometer on the thickest part of the meat, and make sure your meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees to ensure it’s cooked.”
A general rule is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. “The danger zone for bacteria to thrive is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit,” Pittman said. “Cold foods need to be stored under 40 degrees and hot foods need to be kept at temperatures above 140 degrees.”
Avoid cross-contamination by having separate containers, plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat. This means bringing additional containers for leftovers and having multiple tongs and utensils to handle raw and cooked meat separately.
Also be sure to wash your hands before and after dealing with food, especially after handling raw meat. Keep plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on hand to limit your exposure to germs.
Keep healthy options available
We all know that the centerpieces for a good Fourth of July barbecue are hot dogs and hamburgers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be healthy.
If you opt for a burger, choose a smaller patty with plenty of vegetables. Choosing a smaller burger could help you avoid overeating and including vegetables not only gives it added flavor, but could help you feel fuller longer.
Don’t limit your vegetables to just dressing your burgers. “Grilling vegetables is a healthy and easy alternative to other sides,” Pittman said. “Try to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.”
A vegetable tray and some dip, or cucumber slices and lemon to your pitcher of water, may be just what your barbecue needs to make you wear your star spangled apron proudly.
Look out for these common hazards
Keep an eye on excited young ones who may be anxious to jump in the pool or lake to beat the heat. According to the CDC, drowning is the number one cause of death among children ages 1–4 and number two among children ages 5–9.
“Make sure to use a flotation device for your child that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard,” Pittman said. “The best way to keep your children safe in the water is to watch them.”
Another popular Independence Day activity is fireworks, lighting up the night sky with red, white and blue sparkles. If your barbecue plans include fireworks, make sure those bottle rockets and Roman candles are used responsibly.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were an estimated 10,500 fireworks-related injuries in 2014, including 11 deaths. The National Council on Firework Safety has these tips, such as keeping a bucket of water nearby and avoiding homemade fireworks, to make sure that your fireworks are being safely used to help celebrate the day.
“Safety is the most important thing,” Pittman said. “Being safe and responsible will help keep your barbecue a yearly tradition.”