Public Health Corner: Food Safety Tips for Summer Outings

No ants, no bees, no food poisoning! What better way to celebrate a beautiful summer day than with a picnic outside at the park, at the beach or even in your own backyard. Here are some tips from and to keep your picnic perfectly safe:

Plan ahead. Don’t forget essential items such as a food thermometer, cooler chest with ice, plenty of clean utensils, storage containers for leftovers, paper towels, and trash bags. Find out ahead of time if you’ll have running water, grills, picnic tables, and trash receptacles at the site. If running water is not available, it would be helpful to bring water in jugs, both for washing and for drinking.

In preparation for your picnic, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush. Don’t thaw meat on the counter overnight–that’s not safe. Thaw food in the refrigerator or cook from the frozen state. Don’t partially cook meat and poultry ahead of time unless it will be going on the grill immediately, such as going from the kitchen out to a grill just outside the home.

When you arrive at the picnic site, the first task is to wash your hands before preparing food. You could also use disposable wet wipes or hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after touching food. Also make sure to wipe down surfaces, such as tabletops and grill tops before starting food prep. With canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cooking frozen meat or poultry will take approximately 50 percent longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry. It’s safest to cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature at the picnic as measured with a food thermometer according to recommended guidelines. Just because a hamburger looks done on the outside doesn’t mean it is done on the inside.

Keeping food at proper temperatures — indoor and out — is critical in preventing the growth of foodborne bacteria. Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals. This keeps it hot but prevents overcooking. The key is to never let your picnic food remain in the “Danger Zone” — between 40° F and 140° F — for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F. This is when bacteria in food can multiply rapidly, and lead to foodborne illness. Place perishable foods, such as hot dogs, burgers, poultry, deviled eggs, and macaroni or potato salads in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer gel packs. They need to be kept cold. It’s also a good idea to consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another. That way, as people reopen the beverage cooler, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures. Foods like chicken salad and desserts in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

Prevent “cross-contamination” when serving food. Never reuse a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for serving — unless they’ve been washed first in hot, soapy water. Otherwise, you can spread bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked or ready-to-eat food. This is particularly important to remember when serving cooked foods from the grill. Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.

Take prompt care of leftovers. Don’t forget to unpack that cooler as soon as you return home. Refrigerate leftover meats and salads which have stayed cold; discard if they have become warm.