Trading Standards Institute Advice

Outdoor events: barbecue and food safety management

This leaflet is for all food-catering and events businesses, as well as individuals.

In the UK there are only a few opportunities to have a barbecue every year. Because of this, you may not be as aware of food safety as you should be. 

This leaflet offers some guidelines designed to help you avoid food poisoning and allow both the hosts and guests to enjoy the barbecue.

This leaflet is relevant whether you are barbecuing for a function or a fund-raising event, or if you are having a barbecue at home with friends and family.

Plan your menu
When you plan a menu for your barbecue, you should consider:

  • how many people you are catering for
  • how big the actual barbecue you are using is
  • how much hot and cold food storage and display space you have
  • how many people will be helping you and how many are experienced in running a barbecue
  • are the guests all turning up at the same time or will the barbecue run through the afternoon and evening

If you are expecting a lot of guests, it might be a good idea to limit the number of items on the menu or cook the meat in the kitchen oven, before finishing it off immediately on the barbecue.

Food storage
You must defrost frozen food before you cook it, unless the manufacturer's instructions state otherwise.

You need to keep meat and all other perishable foods (foods likely to go off quickly) in the fridge until you are ready to use them. You should keep raw meat and poultry separated from other food in the bottom of your fridge to avoid blood dripping onto other food.

If you can't keep your food in a fridge you should use a cool bag or an icebox with ice packs.

Your fridge should be set between 1 and 5oC. You need to use a thermometer to check this.

Preparing food
Before you start your barbecue, you should plan:

  • where you will keep raw meat
  • where you will keep cooked and ready-to-eat foods and salads
  • where your guests can get their chilled drinks

Don't prepare the salads too early – especially if they have rice or pasta in them.

Marinate meats in a covered container in a separate part of the fridge.

You should thoroughly clean the barbecue and any utensils before you use them. If you did this after you last used the barbecue it shouldn't take you too long.

Cooking and serving
If you use a charcoal barbecue, always make sure that it is hot and ready to use. Before you start cooking, the flames should have died down and the coals should have turned from red to grey or white.

You should put the cooking grill at a height that allows the food to cook at a steady heat, so you can control how quickly you cook the food.

If you cook things too quickly, you will produce a lot of smoke and food that hasn't been cooked properly. 

Because a piece of meat is burnt on the outside it does not necessarily mean that it is cooked right through.

You should follow the manufacturer's instructions when you cook burgers. The instructions may say that you can cook them from frozen but you should make sure that they are cooked through and that there is no pink meat in the burger.

You should never cook chicken and other foods from frozen.

You should make sure that there isn't any pink meat left in chicken, sausages, burgers, pork and kebabs, and that any juices run clear.

The easiest and safest way to check that meat is thoroughly cooked right through to the middle is by using a temperature probe. You should cook to a minimum temperature of 75oC and take the temperature at the thickest part of the meat.

For small barbeques you should cook food one batch at a time and not mix raw and cooked food on the grill area. 

If you are using larger equipment you should make sure raw meat is kept on one side of the barbecue and cooked food is kept and served on the other. 

Once you have cooked food, do not put it back onto the same plate you used for raw meat. 

If you have cooked rice or pasta for salads, cool the hot food as quickly as possible – preferably by running it under a cold tap. Then refrigerate it until ready for use.

If you need a 'production line', you should make sure that your barbecue has enough room to separate the different cooking areas and use separate tongs for each section.

You should keep cooked meat at or above 63oC, either by putting it to the side of the 'cooked' area in a covered pan before you serve it, or putting it in the oven on a low setting.

You must never let cooked food stand for more than an hour, especially in hot weather. 

You must never add sauce or marinade to cooked food if you have already used it with raw meat. 

You should keep serving bowls covered to protect them from dust and insects.

Be aware how long food is out of temperature control - for example, if you put a quantity of sausages or burgers on a plate and put this on a table for guests to help themselves. High-risk food, including rice and pasta salads should not be on display for more than two hours.

Personal hygiene:

  • keep your hands clean, and wash them especially after handling raw meat - consider using disposable gloves for handling raw meat, and throw the gloves away and wash your hands afterwards
  • use utensils where possible
  • don't smoke while you are preparing or cooking food and always wash your hands after you've smoked
  • wear an apron and keep it clean or change it for a clean one if you need to
  • don't wipe your hands, knives or utensils on your apron - wash, clean and dry them properly
  • don't 'wear' a cloth tucked into your trousers or over your shoulder as the temptation is to use this cloth for everything and the risk of cross contamination is high
  • don't cough or sneeze over food - you should use a tissue and then wash your hands
  • if you have an infection you may be too ill to safely handle food

After the barbecue
Throw away all leftovers including salad.

Don't let guests or staff take food home as you can't control what they will do with it and how long they will keep it for.

Clean the barbecue and utensils so you are ready to start again next time. 

Fund raising events
Fund raising events may involve people donating food to the event. If this is the case, you should organise donations and give guidelines as to the type of foods you will need and accept. 

You should not accept donated cooked meats and quiches, for example, as they may cause a problem if food hygiene and safety guidelines have not been met. 

You can accept low-risk foods such as nibbles, leaf salads and drinks.

Quick tips and guidelines:

  • defrost food thoroughly
  • cook food thoroughly
  • keep hot meat stored at 63°C or above and keep cold meat stored below 5°C - these temperatures stop bacteria growing
  • always wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, especially after you handle raw meat
  • keep raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food separate
  • don't use the same utensils or container to handle or store raw and cooked food
  • don't let raw meat juices drip onto other food
  • always keep raw meat in a covered container, away from other foods such as salads and bread
  • clean the barbecue properly before and after you use it

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

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