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Prevent accidents while grilling out

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Warm temperatures go hand-in-hand with grilling out for many Mississippians, but take care to ensure this popular pastime doesn't result in dangerous fires.

Ted Gordon, a Mississippi State University Extension Service safety specialist at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, said safety precautions can make using charcoal or gas grills safe and fun.

"When cooking with charcoal or propane, the most important thing to remember is always cook outdoors where ventilation is plentiful. Cooking in enclosed spaces leads to possible asphyxiation and fire hazards," Gordon said.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that gas grills have a higher fire risk than charcoal grills, but the risk of death from carbon monoxide poisoning is greater with charcoal grills.

The NFPA also reports the popularity of gas-fueled grills nearly tripled between 1982 and 1993, up from 9.4 million to 27.5 million sold. In 2001, gas-fueled grills caused an estimated 600 home structure fires and 3,200 home outdoor fires. That year, gas and charcoal grill fires resulted in a combined direct property loss of $19 million.

"When cooking on a charcoal grill, keep the grill away from siding, deck rails and out from under eaves and low-hanging branches," Gordon said. "Also keep the grill a safe distance from play and walking areas, and establish a safe zone of at least a 3-foot circumference around the grill. Children and pets should not be allowed in this safe zone."

Use long-handled grill tools to allow plenty of distance between the cook and the smoke and flames. Check and clean grill fat collection trays periodically to avoid igniting the old grease. Use a quality charcoal lighter, and store it in a place not accessible to children and away from heat. Do not use any other flammable liquids to light the charcoal.

"Apply starter fluid directly to the coals, then close the fluid container and move it away. Light the coals slowly and carefully, avoiding a flame-up," Gordon said. "When you've finished cooking, continue to watch the grill as it cools. You can cool the coals with water, but be careful that it doesn't spatter or steam up, causing a possible burn."

Gordon said people cooking on a propane grill should observe many of the safety tips mentioned for charcoal grill use, plus a few others.

"Make sure the propane cylinder has an overfill prevention device, which is required on all cylinders between 4 and 40 pounds capacity. A typical gas grill cylinder holds about 20 pounds of propane," Gordon said. "Propane grills manufactured after April 1, 2002, will have the OPD. If you have an older grill, it must be retrofitted with the OPD before refilling can occur, or it must be disposed of properly and replaced with an OPD-equipped cylinder."

Some convenience stores sell OPD cylinders filled and ready for use, and some will trade an old cylinder for an OPD-equipped one for an additional charge.

"Besides getting a cylinder that is in compliance, this eliminates the trouble of properly disposing of the old one," he said.

Check all hoses and connections for leaks before starting a propane grill each time. A mixture of soap and water applied to the hoses and connections will reveal escaping propane by creating bubbles. Leaks must be repaired before the grill is used.

"After you finish with the grill, check and double-check to make sure the valves are off to avoid raw gas escaping," Gordon said.

Periodically remove and replace the grill's briquettes, and use a fine bristle brush to clean off the burner.

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Released: June 9, 2005
Contact: Ted Gordon, (662) 566-2201

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