Eating This One Thing at a Barbecue Could Increase Your Cancer Risk, Study Says

This popular summer fare could be a greater threat to your wellbeing than you realize, experts say.

Barbecues are every bit as much a summer staple as trips to the beach, with countless families and friends gathering for cookouts on warm weekends every year. Unfortunately, there's one barbecue staple that could be putting your health at risk—and we're not just talking about that questionable potato salad that's been sitting in the sun for hours. If you want to protect your health and wellbeing this summer, you'd be wise to steer clear of this classic cookout dish. Read on to discover which popular  food could potentially increase your cancer risk.

RELATED: If You See This at a Barbecue, Don't Eat It, USDA Says in New Warning.

If you're eating well-done meats, your cancer risk may rise.

blackened steak on plate
Shutterstock/Warren Price Photography

If you think cooking a steak until it's nearly blackened is practically a crime, your aversion to well-done meat may actually be protecting your health. According to a 2009 review of research published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, cooked meats contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs), compounds that have been linked to breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

High-heat cooking, like grilling, can increase the expression of HCAs in meat, as can cooking meat until it's particularly well-done. According to the review's authors, the research they examined confirmed that, "Exposure to HCAs through consumption of well-done meat may increase the risk of certain cancer in humans."

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Undercooked meat may increase your risk of a rare cancer, too.

Cancer patient
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Unfortunately, eating your meat on the rare side may increase your risk of another serious health issue—and it's not just food poisoning you have to worry about. According to a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Cancer, toxoplasma gondii, a bacterium that can be contracted through the consumption of undercooked meat, may have a link to a rare form of brain cancer.

The study's authors found that, among a group of adult study subjects, those who had glioma, a rare form of brain cancer, were also more likely to have toxoplasma gondii antibodies, indicating they'd been infected by the bacterium at some point. However, the study's authors noted that this did not necessarily indicate a strict causality, and the relationship between the bacterium and the cancer should be studied further.

A food thermometer can help you avoid these risks.

person using food thermometer to measure steak temperature
Shutterstock/moreimages

If you want to ensure that the meat you're eating is a suitable temperature for consumption, eyeballing your dish simply won't cut it.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (F); cooking beef, lamb, pork, and veal chops, roasts, and steaks to 145 F; cooking ground beef, lamb, pork, and veal to 160 F; cooking fish to 145 F; and cooking eggs to 160 F. A reliable food thermometer is the best way to accurately gauge how hot your food is.

Follow the two-hour rule when you're out.

Preparing homemade burgers with tomatoes, onions and salad
GMVozd / iStock

While warm weather may feel pleasant, it can also encourage the rapid growth of dangerous bacteria in your food. If you're out on a hot day, the USDA recommends keeping your hot food in containers that keep it hot and keep your cold food on ice, ensuring that you refrigerate it or dispose of it within two hours.

If the day is 90 F or above, pathogenic bacteria can increase rapidly in a short period of time, so at these temperatures, your food is only safe to eat during a one hour window, the USDA warns.

RELATED: Never Put This on Your Meat After Barbecuing, CDC Warns.

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