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a_safely_grilling_meatDoes Burned Meat Cause Cancer?

According to the results of a nine year study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, well done and very well done meats can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Researchers found that people who eat charred or burnt meat on a regular basis have a 60% greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Frying, broiling, or grilling meats to a burnt or charred state can create carcinogens in meat. In addition, other information points to a possible link between eating burnt foods and uterine and ovarian cancer in women. Fortunately, these risks can be avoided by safely grilling meats.

How is Burned Food Dangerous?

Many people like the flavor of charred or burnt meat. However, according to health experts and scientists meats have the potential to produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These chemical compounds occur in charred or over-cooked meat and have been linked to cancer. HCAs are more common and are created through chemical reactions inside the meat when cooking at high temperatures. HCAs can form when frying, broiling, or grilling meat for a long time. The HCAs are created within the meat with prolonged exposure to heat or charring with high heat. HCAs begin to form at a surface temperature of 325 degrees. There are some recommendations for reducing the production of HCAs. Cooking over lower heat, microwaving the meat for a minute or two before grilling to reduce total cooking time, raising the grill rack, not placing meat directly over flames (to reduce flare ups), and marinating meat before cooking are some ways to help reduce the production of HCAs. Marinating meats impedes the production of HCAs and other carcinogens. Cutting off the burnt or charred bits is also recommended.     

PAHs are created in the smoke from something burning. Burnt toast has PAHs. PAHs are commonly responsible for scrotal cancer afflicting professional chimney sweeps. PAHs can form when frying, grilling, roasting, browning, or toasting foods. PAHs form on the exterior of foods rather than inside the food. The carcinogen acrylamide is found in PAHs, and is the leading cause of ovarian and uterine cancer in non-smoking women. An eleven year study has shown a connection between eating burnt foods and these types of cancer.

Safely Grilling Meats

It's still possible to enjoy a summer barbeque without endangering your health. The key to safely grilling meat is temperature control. Keep the temperature low and slowly grill the food. If using a charcoal grill, wait until the charcoal briquettes are almost white. This will help reduce flare ups and allow for slower cooking. Gas grills can be regulated with the control knobs. Keep a squirt bottle or spray bottle handy to extinguish flames that may flare up due to dripping grease. Basting meats with a tomato based sauce helps to limit the production of carcinogens in meat as well.

Although you do not want to overcook, burn, or char meat, you do want to be sure it is thoroughly cooked. To ensure that you are safely grilling meat, use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Chicken, lamb, and pork should reach at least 165 degrees internally and beef (steak or roast) should reach at least 145 degrees (rare-medium rare). Ground beef should be cooked until it reaches at least 160 degrees. The thermometer should be inserted in the thickest part of the meat for an accurate internal temperature.

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