Hello, barbecue season! (Insert lip-smacking noises here.) Across the country, backyard chefs are scrubbing their grills, stocking up on steak sauce, and unfurling their "Kiss the Cook" aprons in anticipation of a long, tasty summer. Before you indulge, however, let's review some pre-grill strategies for food safety. After all, food poisoning is a guest nobody likes to greet.

The danger comes from bacteria - E.coli, salmonella, and other germs - on raw or undercooked meat. They can also be spread through cross-contamination, for example, if hands or food touch a platter previously used for raw meat and then are used to prepare a salad. Bacteria also flourish if food - cooked or uncooked - isn't kept cold or hot enough.

There are many simple ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, whether you're grilling for one or serving up a buffet for 30. For starters, keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood cold until you're ready to use them. Defrost them in the fridge or use the microwave, not on the kitchen counter.

It's a good idea to marinate in the fridge, and if you want to reuse any marinade on cooked food, bring it to a boil first. (And no tasting the marinade once the meat goes in!) If you're partially precooking meat (for example, in the oven), make sure it goes on the grill immediately afterwards.

Wash cutting boards, plates, and utensils that have come into contact with raw meat with hot, soapy water before using them for other foods. Or, buy another set and reserve one just for raw meat. After grilling, don't put cooked food back on the plate the raw food sat on or use the same utensils to pick it up.

Don't judge how "done" meat is by the colour of its surface or juices. The only reliable method is to insert a meat thermometer into the centre. Ground meat (including hamburgers) should reach a temperature of 71°C (160°F), whole poultry, 82°C (180°F), and leftover food should reach a temperature of 74°C (165°F). Fresh beef, lamb, or veal should reach 63°C (145°F) for medium rare, 71°C (160°F) for medium, and 77°C (170°F)for well-done. Pork should get to 71°C (160°F) for medium and 77°C (170°F) for well-done. Poultry and stuffing should reach at least 74°C (165°F). Raw ham should be cooked to 71°C (160°F), and precooked ham, 60°C (140°F). Fish with fins such as salmon and tuna should reach 70°C (158°F). You can keep cooked foods warm on the side of the grill. Never let cooked food sit out for than 2 hours. If it's over 32°C (90°F) outside, put food away after one hour. Not sure how long that seafood casserole has been at room temperature? Don't eat it!

And finally, the cook's secret weapon against bacteria: handwashing. It may be simple, but it's mighty effective. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water before and after touching food. Also, give them a good scrubbing after touching unclean surfaces or garbage, using the bathroom, changing a diaper, playing with the dog, or eating.

Armed with these simple tips, you can enjoy a summer free of queasiness and questionable potato salad. Your guests will be so thankful that perhaps they'll take the "Kiss the Cook" apron seriously!