With Memorial Day just barely behind us and June just around the corner, thoughts turn to outdoor get-togethers and those tasty grilled burgers and barbecued chicken.
But before your heavy-duty grilling gets under way, be sure your grill is ready for the season ahead. Whether your grill is fueled by charcoal, gas, or propane, there are inherent risks.
Charcoal produces carbon monoxide - a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly in a closed environment. About 20 people die each year and about 400 are sent to the emergency room in connection with carbon monoxide poisoning from charcoal, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
So, the safety commission warns never to burn charcoal inside under any circumstances and never to store the grill indoors with freshly used coals.
Meanwhile, gas grills - gaining in popularity - are also sparking more deaths, injuries, and property damage.
The U.S. Fire Administration says that each year fire safety personnel respond to some 6,500 grill fires. From those fires, fewer than five deaths result; about 150 are injured, and about $27.6 million in property damage is incurred.
Not surprisingly, grill fires occur most frequently in June and July and then slowly decrease in August throughout the rest of the year. And the leading cause of grill fires is mechanical failure - a part failure, a leak, a break, or lack of maintenance.
The CPSC and the industry are working to reduce the number of fires and the potential for danger.
As of April 1, all propane gas tanks sold to consumers for barbecue grills must have a new safety device - an over-fill prevention part that helps avoid propane leaks that can cause fires and explosions.
"CPSC worked with industry to develop this safety standard to help prevent death and injuries," said CPSC Acting Chairman Thomas Moore. "As people trade in their old propane tanks for newer ones, we will see fewer fires."
Now, only the new tanks will be sold or refilled. If you have the older tank, you'll need to get the newer, safer tank when you get a refill. Some dealers are replacing the old tanks at no cost; others charge $10 to $20.
And, in 1995, industry standards required new safety features for grills, hoses, and connections. The standard calls for a device to limit the flow of gas if the hose ruptures; a mechanism to shut off the grill if it overheats; and a device to prevent the flow of gas if the connection between the tank and the grill is not leak-proof.
In addition, the CPSC offers these safety tips to reduce the risk of fire:
In addition, always keep gas containers upright and never store a spare container under or near the grill, or indoors.
Once you've inspected your grill and are practicing safe grilling techniques, all you'll have to worry about is not drying out those burgers.