Before firing up the grill this summer, it may be in your family's best interest to give your barbecue pit a thorough scrubbing. According to UK researchers, the average outdoor grilling surface is home to over twice the amount of germs found on a toilet seat.

Bacteria found on barbecue surfaces that had no visible signs of contamination were teeming with listeria, salmonella, and E. coli, the Daily Mail reported. Dr. Lisa Ackerley, Ph.D., one of the leading experts on food safety in the UK, warned the public that these microorganisms are easily transferred to burgers and hot dogs and can lead to severe gastrointestinal infections.

"We often see our gardens as an extension of our homes but they could become a reservoir of harmful bacteria," Ackerley explained. "They potentially give rise to illness and infection if transferred to your food or your mouth by your hands."

The study, conducted by Jeyes cleaning products, relied on questionnaires given to 1,400 participants that asked them about their personal hygiene and the cleanliness of their household. Various items around each participant's house, including the outdoor grill surface, were also tested for their levels of bacteria.

The researchers identified 1.7 million microbes per 100 cm sq. of an average grill's surface, 124 percent more than the surface of a toilet seat. These results are considerably less surprising, seeing as only 36 percent of respondents said they cleaned their barbecue more than two times a year.  

"To help keep the family safe, I would suggest cleaning and disinfecting garden furniture and barbecues prior to use," Ackerley added.

"And, if you have small children, then remember to clean areas that may come into contact with their hands - such as decking and play equipment. Using an appropriate disinfectant could significantly reduce this risk and lead to a healthier, safer outdoor experience for all."

Here are five tips to help keep germs off of your grill:

1.       Don't throw your food on the grill gate as soon you get a fire going, even if you've already cleaned the surface. Instead, allow time for the fire to heat up the metal. Then, give it another wipe down now that all the bacteria has been burnt away.

2.       Before use, apply a layer of cooking oil to prevent particles of food from sticking. It will also make cleaning up a lot easier.

3.       Leaving charcoal inside the grill can produce ash, which collects moisture and gives birth to its own form of bacteria. Empty left over charcoal particles to stop the buildup of mold.

4.       The majority of grill owners neglect the importance of covering their grill when it's not in use. Leaving your grill uncovered means leaving it unprotected from bacteria in the environment.

5.       Most food safety experts recommend washing every component of your grill at least two times a year, ideally at the beginning and end of the summer months when its used most.