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Another picnic season beckons, but there are some health and safety risks

May 8, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE -As the average daily temperature climbs, more and more people are venturing outdoors. And with Memorial Day just around the corner, the summer grilling and camping season is about to kick off.

However, there are some risks associated with seasonal picnics, cookouts and campfires, according to officials. From a health perspective, many people think grilling is healthier than frying or other methods of cooking. And while that may be true, some risks remain.

Grilling is healthy in that it allows fat to drip away from the food, but there is some concern that the high temperatures used in the process can pose health risks.

Article Photos

The outdoor cooking and camping season is rapidly approaching, and brings with it questions about the safest methods for preparing food outdoors. (Journal file photo)

According to a 2009 University of Minnesota study, eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent.

Previous research, according to the American Cancer Society, has shown that cooking meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals that could increase cancer risk.

ACS recommends choosing lean cuts of meat and trimming any excess fat, lining the grill with foil that has holes poked into it (to cut down on smoke coming in contact with the meat) and avoiding charring meat or eating particularly burned pieces of meat.

In order to avoid the risk, but still enjoy that grilled flavor, people can grill vegetables or fruit. Many of the chemicals created when meat is grilled are not formed during the grilling of vegetables or fruits, and the ACS suggests instead grilling things like peppers, yellow squash, mushrooms, onions and pineapple.

Outdoor fun may also pose a threat to the environment if caution isn't used.

Celeste Chingwa, the Upper Peninsula resource protection manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, orchestrates the fire protection program for the U.P.

She said those grilling or creating campfires should use caution to avoid starting a larger fire. If fire pits are not set into the ground, they should have 10 feet of clearance on all sides, where no burnable materials are present.

When leaving or going to sleep for the night, it's also imperative to put the fire out.

"Campfires are legal regardless of where they take place - as long as they're not in the city limits," Chingwa said. "It's not illegal to have them, but certainly if you're going to have one out in the woods, you would need to take care to douse it."

Chingwa said the key is to completely douse a fire or pile of burning charcoal briquettes with water before leaving the area. Leaving a fire smoldering or scattering the briquettes on the ground prior to leaving is actually dangerous, especially as the year wears on.

"As the year progresses, more and more fuel becomes available on the ground," said Chingwa, who cautioned people against smothering fires with dirt. "Many people think dirt can't burn, but there is organic material within the dirt and that's what carries the fire."

Chingwa said the fire season started a bit earlier than usual this year, and a number of small blazes have already been reported, including a 6.5-acre fire near Gwinn. A fire last month that burned more than 1,400 acres in the Huron National Forest downstate and forced the evacuation of about 50 homes was caused by a person, according to the Associated Press.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.



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