It’s picnic and barbecue season, the time we enjoy good food outdoors with friends and family. But summer food gatherings could also invite an unwelcome guest, food poisoning. As food is exposed to higher temperatures in summer, bacteria begin to multiply rapidly.
Safe food handling practices are especially important when eating and cooking outdoors. Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your family and friends from foodborne illness during warm-weather months.
- When grocery shopping, keep a cooler in your car and grab a few ice packs on your way out the door so you can keep meats and other perishables at the correct temperature until you get home.
- Minimize how often you open coolers to help maintain a safe temperature. What you want to remember for all your picnic food is to never let it be in the "Danger Zone" – between 40° F and 140° F – for more than 2 hours.
- Freeze water bottles and other beverages and place them in the cooler. They will be partially thawed by the time you’re ready to drink them.
- Keep your grilled food hot until serving time by moving it to the sides of the grill or top rack away from direct heat.
- Use a meat thermometer to determine if your food is properly cooked or grilled. Beef hamburgers should reach 160 degrees, steak 145, fish should be 145 and opaque, and chicken 165. Discard marinade that has been in contact with raw meat. Also, don't put cooked meat on the same plate you used for the raw meat.
- At picnics and barbeques, put leftover foods in the cooler immediately after everyone is served. Throw away any food left out for more than two hours.
- Don’t buy precut fruit such as cantaloupe and watermelon. Buy them whole, wash them well, cut them yourself, and keep refrigerated. Precutting and wrapping fruit gives bacteria a chance to multiply at the grocery store.
- Go ahead and make your mom’s classic potato salad or macaroni salad with mayonnaise. Commercial mayonnaise is made with pasteurized eggs, salt and vinegar or lemon juice, which help prevent it from spoiling.
- Keep in mind the old adage: "If in doubt, throw it out!" You’re better off not gambling with food and getting food poisoning.