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Mike Parker

Is Grilled Meat Bad for You?

Friday, June 1, 2018 at 9:50am
Food Safety
Health
Food Handler Classes

Ah, sweet summertime! It beckons you to light up the charcoal and toss some brats, or burgers or chicken on the grill. Yet, you pause. You’ve heard reports in the news media that eating grilled meats will give you cancer. What to do; what to do?

Perhaps you don’t need to jettison your barbeque grill just yet. Perhaps you just need to fine tune your technique a bit.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when certain meats, such as beef, pork, fish, or poultry, are cooked at high temperatures (above 300 degrees F), like when you are grilling directly over an open flame. Lab experiments indicate HCAs and PAHs can cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

Laboratory studies have shown that exposure to HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animal models, including cancer of the breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate, leukemia and tumors of the gastrointestinal tract, lungs and other organs. The NCI notes, however, the doses of HCAs and PAHs used in these studies were very high—equivalent to thousands of times the doses that a person would consume in a normal diet. Currently, no Federal guidelines address the consumption of foods containing HCAs and PAHs, and population studies have not established a definitive link between HCA and PAH exposure from cooked meats and cancer in humans.

Does that give you carte blanche to grill to your heart’s content? Probably not. Since the jury is still out on whether eating grilled meat might cause cancer, the NCI offers these suggestions to reduce your exposure to HCA/PAH.

  • Avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, and avoid prolonged cook times.
  • Use a microwave oven to pre-cook meat prior to grilling at high temperatures. This will substantially reduce cooking time, which will reduce HCA formation.
  • Turn meat over frequently. This helps reduce HCA formation compared to leaving the meat on the grill without flipping it.
  • Cut away any portions of meat that are charred.

Grill safe. Grill happy!
 

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