Lots of great memories have been made over summertime picnics with family and friends. Keep your memories happy by practicing food safety with outdoor dining. Bacteria counts climb in hot weather so you have to pay more attention to the possibility of food borne illnesses. Here are some tips to enjoy safe outdoor meals in warm weather:
Keep Cold Foods Cold: Foods that contain mayonnaise or meat, such as sandwiches, macaroni salads, potato salads, raw hot dogs, hamburgers or seafood, need to stay in an environment that is 40 degrees or colder to prevent bacteria from growing. Store these foods in a well-insulated cooler that is packed with ice.
- Pack two coolers, one for foods and one for beverages. Your family should be drinking lots of water on hot days, which means the cooler will be opened and closed more often. Designating one cooler as “Drinks Only” means the food cooler will keep a consistent cold temperature.
- Keep coolers out of direct sunlight. Pick a shady place at your picnic spot to store your cooler. If you are traveling by car, place the cooler in the air-conditioned area of the car, not in the hot trunk. If you are packing cooked food, make sure it is cooled completely before packing.
- Use lots of ice. Empty spaces in coolers will trap warm air. Pack as much ice as will fit around the food in the cooler.
- Throw away any food that has been sitting in the sun for more than two hours. Remembering the saying “When in doubt, throw it out” can go a long way in preventing a food borne illness. Put leftover food back in the cooler immediately after everyone is done eating if you want to save it for later.
Cleanliness Matters: A clean workspace, clean hands, and washed vegetables and fruits and the best defenses against food borne illnesses. Be sure to use separate plates and utensils for raw meats and cooked meats too.
- Wash your hands in hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Always wash your hands after handling raw meats. If you are somewhere that does not have running water, pack hand sanitizer in your camp box and use it regularly.
- Keep raw meats and cooked meats on different plates. Do not put cooked meats from the grill on the same plate that was used for raw meat unless the plate has been washed with hot soapy water. Same goes for utensils.
- Rinse Fruits and Vegetables before packing them in a cooler. If you are at the beach or at a campsite without running water, washing vegetables and fruits can be a challenge. Play it safe and wash them before you leave the house.
- Package foods in airtight containers. Cross-contamination can happen between raw meats, fish and poultry, fruits, vegetables and prepared foods if the food is not packages properly. Be sure seals are secured and holes in bags before placing them in the cooler.
Cook Meats Thoroughly: Rare and medium-rare meats, fish and poultry might still contain harmful bacteria if a safe internal temperature is not reached during grilling.
- Preheat the grill. A grill’s got to be good and hot before you start cooking on it. Preheat the grill for at least 20 minutes prior to use. Keeping a meat thermometer in your camp box is a good idea.
- Marinating rules. Never use marinade on cooked food that was used on raw food. Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter top.
- Be sure meat is thawed before grilling. If meat, fish or poultry still has frozen spots, it will hot cook evenly. This means bacteria might still be present after the meat is cooked. Always thaw meat in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
- Keep the condiments cool while the main course is cooking. Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and sliced vegetables that are left to sit in the sun while the food cooks can easily become contaminated. Keep them cold while the meat gets hot and put them out just before serving.
Graphics from the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station