Nutrition Articles

Picnic Precautions: Keep Food Safe during Summer Celebrations
Summer Celebrations often mean picnics, barbecues, poolside lunches or camping meals with family and friends. But in addition to the fun and fireworks, summer's warmer months also bring increased risk for food-borne illness. Use these tips to help prevent your food festivities from fizzling:

Keep hands sparkling clean. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water before, during and after preparing picnic foods. If there's no facility at the picnic site, bring a jug or spray bottle of water, soap and paper towels. Disposable wipes or hand sanitizer will do in a pinch, too.

Keep cold foods cold. Keep perishable foods in the safe temperature zone of 40°F or lower by packing them in an insulated cooler surrounded by ice or frozen gel packs. Pack meat, poultry and seafood frozen so they stay cold longer. If you bring these foods raw, securely wrap and put on the bottom of the cooler so their juices don't contaminate other foods. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in another so you open the perishable foods cooler less often.

Chill out with mayo-based foods and cut melons. You might be surprised to know that the acid from vinegar or lemon juice in mayonnaise helps prevent bacterial growth. But when you mix mayo with other foods—especially protein-containing foods—bacteria can multiply rapidly in warmer temperatures (greater than 40°F). So keep egg, potato and pasta salads, and other mayo-based foods thoroughly chilled in the cooler. Wash watermelon, cantaloupe and other melons with water to remove dirt and bacteria from their rinds before cutting. Keep cut pieces chilled at 40°F or lower.

Keep hot foods hot. Keep hot foods at 140°F or higher—and use a thermometer to be sure. Here's a good way to transport hot foods cooked just before the picnic: wrap the food in plastic wrap and place in a cardboard box or heavy paper bag for transport. If you have another cooler, you can also store and transport all of your hot food together in the cooler. At the picnic site, eat these foods right away, or immediately put them on the grill and keep them hot until it's time to eat. The same rules apply to hot take-out foods such as fried chicken or barbecued ribs.

Skip partial cooking. Don't partially cook meat, poultry or fish at home, and then finish cooking later at the picnic site. Harmful bacteria can multiply quickly in partially-cooked foods and may not be destroyed when you finish cooking the food.

Don't transport in the trunk. Temperatures can reach a steamy 150°F in the trunk of your car, so transport picnic foods and coolers in the air-conditioned interior. At the picnic site, put a blanket over the coolers and place in the shade.

Don't cross-contaminate! If you're grilling, don't use the same utensils and plates on raw and cooked meat, poultry and fish unless you wash these items thoroughly in between. Proper washing is a challenge when picnicking, so pack extra plates and utensils–-one set for raw foods and one for cooked, or use disposables. Be sure not to allow exposed raw meat, fish and poultry to touch each other.

Check the heat. Bring a food thermometer so you can check meat, fish and poultry to ensure they reach a safe internal cooking temperature. Cook fish, beef and pork to an internal temperature of 145°F or higher, ground beef to 155°F or higher and poultry to 165°F or higher. Keep grilled foods hot, at 140°F or higher, until serving by moving them to the side of the grill rack. Reheat foods like baked beans and hot dogs to 140°F or higher.

Observe the two-hour (and sometime one-hour) rule. Hot or cold, keep perishable foods out of the sun and don't let them sit out for more than two hours—make that one hour if the temperature is 90°F or higher. If possible, keep cold foods chilled in the cooler or in a bed of ice. Eat hot items right after they're cooked—and don't cook more than you need. Put leftovers back in the cooler right after everyone fills their plates.

Play it safe with leftovers. Throw out any foods left on the table. If there's still ice in the cooler, you can keep the foods inside, but toss them if the ice is melted. Cold water isn't cold enough to keep foods safe. Be sure not to place leftovers in the same container as raw meats. Once home, reheat the previously cooked leftovers to 165°F or higher.