Cookout Dangers and “Trauma Season”

Did you know that in emergency rooms around the nation, the summer months are called “trauma season?” At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, traumatic injuries sometimes double during the summer months – from 100 per month to between 170 and 200 a month. In adults, trauma cases increase by 25 to 30%, according to UPMC Presbyterian.

Not surprisingly, outdoor injuries are responsible for most of this increase, and a common backyard activity is sometimes to blame.

Hot Off the Grill

It’s estimated that 80% of US households own a grill. While grills are great for easy, warm-weather cooking, they also come with some serious risks if not used properly. Here are some of the injuries doctors have seen:

Beware of the delayed starter – One doctor had a patient who took matters into his own hands when the electric starter on his gas grill didn’t work. To get things going the patient got a match, not realizing that a cloud of gas had built up. The gas ignited with the match and caused second-degree burns on the patient’s body.

Patience is a virtue – In burns involving charcoal grills, gasoline or lighter fluid is involved in about 25% of all injuries. These normally occur when someone gets impatient while waiting for the briquettes to heat up and adds more fluid. This can lead to serious, sometimes fatal, burns.

Faulty equipment – In the past 10 years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued dozens of grill recalls for issues ranging from faulty burners to missing hoses. These defects can leave users in a dangerous position, such as one woman who suffered burns to her legs after her grill became engulfed in flames.

Grilling Safety Tips

families cooking out

Experts recommend following these safety tips for gas grills:

  • Check the gas cylinder hose for leaks before using your grill for the season. You can apply a small amount of soap and water to the hose – it will reveal escaping gas by forming bubbles.
  • If you smell gas and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and get the grill serviced (or call the fire department if the leak does not stop).
  • If you smell gas while cooking, call the fire department right away and don’t try to move the grill.
  • Always make sure the lid is OPEN when you turn on the gas. Otherwise, gas may build up inside and blow off the lid when ignited.
  • Make sure you completely close the valve on your grill after cooking.
  • Store grills and propane tanks outside and away from your house.

If you prefer charcoal grills, keep these tips in mind:

  • Charcoal grills can remain hot for hours after the flames go out. Keep flammable objects away from the grill while the coals are hot.
  • Check for rust damage. Rust can lead to holes through which hot coals can fall and cause a fire.
  • Keep lighter fluid away from heat sources and away from children and pets.
  • NEVER add starter fluid to coals or kindling that has already been ignited. If the fire is too low, add more charcoal or dry kindling if needed.
  • NEVER use any flammable or combustible liquid other than lighter fluid to start a grill fire (such as gasoline).
  • Don’t leave the grill unattended.

Whether you use charcoal or gas, grill placement is also extremely important, as grills account for about 9,000 house fires in the US every year. Here’s what you should remember:

  • Put grills on a level surface more than 10 feet away from homes, garages, or other structures.
  • Don’t put them under overhangs, low branches, or on balconies, and keep them away from combustible deck rails.
  • Only use your grill outside. Don’t use them in a garage, tent, or other enclosed space. In addition to fire risks, grilling can also lead to carbon monoxide build-up.

Food Poisoning Concerns

ground meat

The equipment is only one part of the grilling equation – the other is the food. From the moment the food leaves the store to the time it’s on your plate, there are ways for food to become contaminated with the bacteria that causes food poisoning.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours of purchase. The rule is 1 hour when the temperature is above 90° F.
  • Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used within 1 or 2 days. Other meat should be frozen within 4 or 5 days.
  • Fully thaw meat before putting it on the grill to make sure it cooks evenly.
  • Marinate food in the refrigerator, not sitting out on the counter.
  • If you’re taking food to a cookout, transport it in an insulated cooler with ice or ice packs so that the temperature remains under 40° F.
  • Cook food to the correct temperature. This is especially important when grilling as food tends to brown quickly on the outside. Here are the temperatures your food should reach:
  • Poultry: 165° F
  • Ground Meat: 160° F
  • Beef, pork, lamp, and veal: 145° F and let rest at least 3 minutes
  • In temperatures above 90° F, food shouldn’t sit out for more than 1 hour.

If you’re looking for more information on food safety, you can check out our Food Poisoning Infographic.

We wish everyone a happy, healthy summer season!

Defective Grills

While there are some grilling dangers you can control, a defective grill isn’t one of them. That’s up to the manufacturer – which has a responsibility to keep consumers safe.

When that doesn’t happen, there can be disastrous results, especially with grills, which can pose risks even when working perfectly. If you suspect that your injury was caused by a defective grill – or any other product – feel free to get in touch with us. We’re available 24/7.


“Summertime is ‘trauma season’ for hospital ERs.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 8, 2014.

“Great balls of fire! Grill injuries can ruin your cookout.” July 2, 2010.

“Grilling Safety Tips.” Travelers Insurance. June 6, 2016.

“Barbecue & Picnic Tips from A-Z.” June 7, 2016.

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