Medically Approved

Summer barbecue safety guide

5 minute read
Family grilling barbecue in the summer

Beach and backyard cookouts are fun — but it’s good to be prepared for minor injuries. Here’s advice from doctors on how to treat burns, cuts and more.   


Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

Throwing a July Fourth barbecue? You’ve probably already pulled together your grocery list: burgers, buns, chips, lemonade and charcoal for the grill.

But make sure you also stock up on first-aid supplies. It’s important to be prepared to handle minor health issues that can crop up when everyone is outside having fun.

Learn which supplies you’ll need, how to treat common summer injuries — and when you need to go to urgent care.

Prep your first-aid kit

“If you don’t already have a first-aid kit at home, now is the time to invest,” says Karen L. Smith, MD. She’s a family doctor in Raeford, North Carolina.

You can buy a ready-made kit or create your own. You don’t need a fancy container. Just store your supplies in a plastic box, a cosmetic bag or a gallon-size zip-top bag.

Here are some of the key supplies the American Red Cross says you should have in your kit:

Keep your kit handy in a kitchen cabinet so that you can grab it when you need it. And be sure to check regularly for any expired items you need to replace.

You can shop for all your first-aid essentials at the Optum Store and have them delivered right to your door. Start here.

How to treat a minor burn

Getting tagged by a hot liquid or still-sizzling grill isn’t usually cause for alarm. A minor burn can often be treated just fine at home. But severe burns that cover more than 3 inches of skin should be treated by a doctor.

To treat a minor burn, follow these steps from Rajnish Jaiswal, MD, associate chief of emergency medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan:

  1. Isolate the area. Remove any clothing and jewelry from the burn area. These can cause pain or irritation once swelling starts.
  2. Cool and clean. Run the burn area under cool water for at least 5 minutes. Clean gently with soap. If you choose to ice, be sure to wrap the ice in a towel before placing it on the skin. Dr. Jaiswal warns that putting ice directly on a burn can cause more damage.
  3. Treat the burn. Gently pat the area dry with a soft, clean cloth. Avoid breaking blisters if they form. Then apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to protect the area from infection.
  4. Dress if desired. A minor burn doesn’t typically need to be wrapped in a bandage. If you prefer to cover it, choose a nonstick dressing, which likely won’t cause pain or damage when you remove it.
  5. Use medications. “Even minor burns can be painful,” Dr. Jaiswal says. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) may help.

How to treat minor cuts and scrapes

Cuts and scrapes are practically a given when you spend time outdoors. You can treat small ones at home by following these steps:

  1. Wash your hands. Always scrub up before you tend to a cut or scrape. “Washing your hands prevents transmitting an infection to the wound, especially if you’re cleaning or dressing it,” Dr. Jaiswal explains.
  2. Clean the wound. Once your hands are clean, wash the wound gently with running water and pat dry. Avoid scrubbing the wound, as this can cause more injury.
  3. Apply pressure. If the cut is bleeding, place a clean cloth over it and apply constant pressure. Hold it until the bleeding stops.
  4. Treat. Once you’ve stopped the bleeding, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to the cut.
  5. Dress. Apply a bandage to the wound. Make sure it’s large enough to completely cover the wound. For larger abrasions, you may want to wrap it in nonstick gauze secured with paper tape. Be sure to change the dressing every day and protect the area from getting wet. If the bandage gets wet, change it immediately.

How to treat a bee or wasp sting

Bee and wasp stings are common annoyances in summer months. They usually result in swelling, itching and pain around the sting site.

In severe cases, stings can cause more widespread allergic reactions. These include breaking into hives, swelling of the face or throat, and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. Signs of anaphylaxis include a rapid and weak pulse, skin rash, and nausea and vomiting, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If a guest at your barbecue isn’t a family member, you may not know if they have a bee or wasp allergy. So first ask if they’ve had allergic reactions to stings in the past. If they’re allergic, they may have been prescribed an EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injector) for such emergencies, Dr. Smith says. If so, use the EpiPen (if you know how) and call 911 immediately.

If you don’t know whether they’ve had allergic reactions, treat the sting as outlined below. But monitor the person closely to ensure they’re breathing normally and not swelling excessively, says Dr. Smith.

Follow these steps to treat bee or wasp stings at home:

  1. Clean. Remove any remaining part of the stinger with tweezers. “Be careful not to squeeze it. You want to prevent more venom from entering the body,” Dr. Smith says. Wash the site with soap and water.
  2. Cool. Once the area is clean, cool it with a cold, damp cloth or covered ice pack. “Cooling the region can help with pain and irritation,” Dr. Jaiswal says.
  3. Treat the sting. Apply a cream or ointment with 1% hydrocortisone. This can provide relief and fight inflammation.
  4. Use medications. An antihistamine medication can reduce itching. Dr. Jaiswal recommends using an OTC option such as Allegra® (fexofenadine), Claritin® (loratadine) or Zyrtec® (cetirizine) in the daytime. (Learn more about these medications.) An OTC medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with pain.

How to treat an upset stomach

Did you fill up on too much potato salad at your barbecue? Or maybe a guest is suddenly feeling a bit queasy. For minor stomach woes, a few OTC medications can bring quick relief. These include:

  • Antidiarrheals. Medications such as Imodium® (loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol® (bismuth subsalicylate) can soothe an upset stomach if diarrhea is involved.
  • Antacids. Tablets such as Tums® or Alka-Seltzer® can provide short-term relief for indigestion.

When you should get medical help

More serious injuries need to be seen by a doctor. Head to urgent care for:

  • Injuries to the head, face, neck or eyes
  • Wounds that are deep, jagged, bleeding heavily and/or contaminated
  • Suspected bone fractures
  • Bite wounds (either animal or human)
  • Second-degree burns that cover more than 3 inches

When in doubt, head to an urgent care center or make an online appointment with a virtual urgent care clinic.

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Additional sources
First-aid kit supplies: American Red Cross (n.d.). “Make a First Aid Kit”
Treating household injuries: American Academy of Family Physicians (2020). “How to Treat Common Household Injuries”
Information on anaphylaxis: Mayo Clinic (n.d.). “Anaphylaxis”
BRAT diet: American Academy of Family Physicians (2021). “BRAT Diet: Recovering from an Upset Stomach”