Cooking Meat Safely
July 17, 2006 11:56 AM   Subscribe

When barbecuing, are you increasing the meat contamination risk by using the same spatula from beginning to end? And what about grill presses?

My instinct wants to say it is a poor idea to use the same spatula throughout the meat cooking process. It seems unsafe to allow the same spatula to touch partially cooked and then fully cooked meat. I'm imagining barbecuing or stir-fry scenarios where one must attend to the meat as it cooks.

So, how does one not poison their dinner guests, but not use 10 spatulas, either? Should you only allow utensils to touch the meat after a certain point? I'm similarily wondering about grill presses that hold down raw meat, and whether someone is supposed to use a second, clean grill press after the meat is flipped?
posted by pricklypear to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I stick the spatula through the hole in the side of the grill (assuming you're using one of those gas grills with the lid that is attached - there's normally a hole on the side).

It heats up really really hot. Hot enough that when I grab it to use it next time and touch the meat you can hear the meat searing when the spatula touches it.

Just make sure your spatula has a handle that doesn't conduct heat.
posted by jimmy0x52 at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2006

The heat should heat up the spatula as it does the meat, and kill the bacteria. I have wooden handled metal utensils and I just leave them with the business end directly over the heat when not in use, just to make sure.
posted by fire&wings at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2006

I have personally only ever used one spatula throughout whatever I cook. AFAIK, I've never came down with something due to the bacteria in uncooked meat.

Also, humans ate raw meat for the longest time. I eat under cooked steaks whenever I get the chance.

Basically, I don't think the very tiny amount of bacteria that will 'stick' to the spatula is going to hurt anybody.
posted by triolus at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2006

Surface contamination of meat is usually of little consequence, as proper cooking will sterilize it (although handling of contaminated meat may result in contamination of hands, tables, kitchenware, towels, other foods, etc.)

I'm with triolus. Home cooks make much more of the risk of contamination than is really warranted, and the kitchenware industry makes a fortune off of hyping the risks. Buy fresh meat, don't be an idiot, and you'll be fine.
posted by Brian James at 12:22 PM on July 17, 2006

"My instinct wants to say it is a poor idea to use the same spatula throughout the meat cooking process."

I've never worked at a restaurant that had more than a single spatula in use at one time. The only time during two years of tending a grill at a fast food place that we had more than one spatula was when two people were tending grill.
posted by Mitheral at 12:26 PM on July 17, 2006

Most of us cook as triolus does, and we're all still here.

I think the best thing cooks can do for their families is to spend more time making meals from healthy, known ingredients and less on a CSI-style game of "Where has this implement possibly been since I last boiled it?"

I recently saw a commercial where a disinfectant was sprayed so many places, including food, that I half-expected the woman to spray it directly into her kid's mouth, just to be sure.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 12:28 PM on July 17, 2006

I also use the same spatula throughout. However, if I use a knife to cut open a piece of chicken to see if it's done and it's still raw inside, I wash that knife before I cut again. I might just be paranoid though.
posted by gfrobe at 12:42 PM on July 17, 2006

The surface, where the spatula touches, cooks almost instantaneously. It's the core of the meat that need to get to a certain temperature, especially with ground meats.

I use (and recommend) a digital thermometer with a probe that can withstand very high temperatures.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:43 PM on July 17, 2006

I'm very aware of this and usually just keep the metal part of the spatula on the grill.

Speaking as one who enjoys medium-rare steaks, the risk of poisoning is not trivial when we're talking about (1) chicken or (2) ground beef that originated at a commercial processing plant. It's easy just to keep spatulas and tongs near the hot part and not play Russian roulette.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:08 PM on July 17, 2006

As others have said, I make sure to get the spatula up under the lid when it is closed (gas or charcoal) to expose it to the high cooking heats to kill any germs on it. Of course, only do this with metal spatulas and only if it has a non-metal handle that will not carry the high heat to your hands.
posted by criticman at 1:31 PM on July 17, 2006

You shouldn't have a problem using the same spatula. You might want to avoid using the same pair of tongs to handle both cooked and raw pork, however. Tongs may not spend enough time under the heat to kill the trichinosis bug, and if you remove cooked pork from the heat source immediately after adding raw pork to the heat source, you risk getting worms.

For this reason, I recommend avoiding street meat in Korea.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:34 PM on July 17, 2006

Trichinosis is very rare today in the developed world today due to laws about what you can feed pigs, with about 12 cases anually in the US, most from eating wild game.
I'm pretty cautious about the spatula/tongs issue myself, however. I own two pairs of tongs, one of which only touches the meat once-when I'm taking it out of the pan(I don't have a grill, and there's no way the tongs/spatula get hot enough from brief encounters with my cast iron). This is mildly anal, I guess, but my point is that though I may be anal about cross contamination, I still eat my pork chops pink.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:05 AM on July 18, 2006

Amazing-- I wondered this very question last night when I made stir fry. I use tongs, not a spoon or spatula, and I wondered if I was re-contaminating the meat each time I touched it.

And for all you invincible bellies out there, JUST YOU WAIT until you get yourself a little dose of salmonella with your chicken. Woo, boy. You might be singing a different song.
posted by orangemiles at 11:21 AM on July 18, 2006

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