Whether it be at a park, the beach, or in your own backyard, there’s something about enjoying a meal outside that is extra special. However, foodborne illness can be more common at summertime picnics.
Before your next gathering, make sure you follow these steps to ensure your picnic meal won’t make anyone sick.
Wash your hands
Almost half of foodborne illnesses are caused by infrequent hand washing while preparing food. Start every meal by thoroughly washing your hands. In order to properly kill any germs, you should vigorously rub your hands together with soap for at least 20 seconds. You should also re-wash after handling raw meat and before eating your food. If you’re at a park, campground, or beach with limited access to running water, pack lots of hand sanitizer and rub it over your hands, fingers, and nails until it is dry.
Juices from raw meat and poultry can contain bacteria and cause foodborne illness. For this reason, it’s important to pack your food in clean, tightly sealed, individual containers. You should also sanitize your cooler before and after each use to kill any bacteria that may have grown while it was being stored.
Wash all produce before eating even if it’s something you plan on peeling. If there are bacteria on the outside and you use a knife to peel it, that bacteria can be transferred from the knife to the part you eat.
Avoid cross-contamination with plates and utensils. You should have separate utensils for raw and cooked meats or wash them in between uses. For example, if you use a plate to carry your meat to the grill, you shouldn’t use that same plate to carry the cooked meat back to the table. Keep any ready-to-eat foods such as buns, fruit, and side dishes away from raw meat and the plates and utensils used to prepare them.
Cross-contamination can even happen with ice. If you want ice for use in beverages, you should keep that in a separate, sealed bag. When serving or scooping ice into cups, make sure you have clean hands and use a designated scoop that has been cleaned and sanitized. The ice used to keep food cold could have bacteria from leaking food without you even knowing so it’s best to have separate bags of ice designated for each purpose.
Maintain Proper Food Temperatures
The temperature of food is critically important in preventing bacteria growth so have a thermometer handy. Meats need to be cooked to specific temperatures to kill any bacteria. For example, hamburgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F and chicken breast should be cooked to 165 degrees. Take the temperature in the thickest part of the meat and be careful not to push the thermometer all the way through or let it hit a bone.
Perishable food should be kept out of the “danger zone”: a temperature range between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. When the temperature is within this range, bacteria can double every 20 minutes but, you cannot, see smell, or taste harmful bacteria. Use a well-insulated cooler and ice or ice packs to transport food and transport it in the air-conditioned backseat rather than the trunk.
After eating, it’s common to leave food out and continue snacking. However, this can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Do not leave food out for more than two hours or one hour if the temperature is over 90 degrees. Remember, it’s not just meat that can make you sick, care should be taken with all perishable food, especially anything dairy-based like egg, potato, and tuna salads.
Nickie Kaetzel is a clinical dietitian at Fisher-Titus Medical Center. For help in reaching your health and wellness goals, contact your primary care physician for a referral for outpatient nutrition counseling.