(MCT) -- Ladies and gentlemen, start your grills. It's June - the (unofficial) start of barbecue season. And as you maneuver this meaty course, stay alert for these flags along the way:
1. Keep it fresh. Always refrigerate fresh ground meat and poultry and cook it within one or two days, advises Tina Hanes with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Steaks, roasts, and chops can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to five days if the temperature is maintained at less than 40 degrees F.
2. Keep it cool. NEVER leave raw meat, poultry, or any perishable food at room temperature for more than two hours. And if the thermometer hits 90F or above, the margin of safety goes down to one hour, says FSIS.
3. Marinate it. Soak beef, pork, fish, and poultry in beer, wine, tea or other marinade mixtures for at least 30 minutes before grilling, say experts. Marinade can significantly reduce the formation of "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons" (PAH's) - potential cancer-causing substances formed when meat, poultry and fish are cooked at high temperatures.
4. Turn down the heat. Meat, fish and poultry cooked over high heat (especially above 300F) or in flames caused by fat dripping over a fire can also create "heterocyclic amines" (HCA's). While the effect of these substances in humans is unclear, high doses are linked to cancer in animals, according to the National Cancer Institute. Barbecuers can reduce the formation of these substances by not cooking meat to death or partially cooking it at a lower temperature (such as in microwave) before throwing it on the grill. And try not to burn it.
5. Choose leaner cuts. Besides being good for your waistline, less fat means less smoke and flames - the source of potentially hazardous compounds. Lean cuts are typically those from the "round" or "loin" part of the animal. Tri-tip for example, is a sirloin cut - a lean meat. Yay!
6. Toss more vegetables and fruit on the grill. Besides making barbecues more interesting and nutritious, foods such as grilled red, yellow, and green peppers, squash, mushrooms, onions, and pineapple do not promote the formation of harmful byproducts.
7. Celebrate with a picnic!
Let the barbecues begin!