Get out and enjoy a picnic but be careful with food

By CHERYL WALKER Milam AgriLife Extension Agent
If you are planning a picnic for the Fourth of July or any time during the hot summer months, food safety is a big safety concern.

Hot temperatures accelerate the production of bacteria that contain toxins which may cause food poisoning, so extra attention needs to be taken in food handling.

Extra care starts with the planning

of the picnic meal. Plan ning

to prepare foods that you can keep at the proper temperatures throughout the cooking, serving and storing process. Also follow the clean, separate, cook and chill rules.

Picnic foods typically require a lot of handling, and the more foods are handled the greater the risk of contamination. Since many picnic areas may not have easy access to running water, it’s a good idea to bring your own dish washing soap and water, hand sanitize or anti-bacterial wipes.

Hands should be washed thoroughly, as should the surfaces on which food is being prepared. Make sure you start out with clean containers, serving pieces or utensils. Ice chests should be cleaned and sanitized inside and out prior to packing for the picnic.

Use a separate cutting board for fresh produce and raw meats. Foods to be grilled on-site should be securely wrapped so juices don’t

drip onto other foods. They should be separated from vegetables and pre-made foods, preferably in their own cooler. Keep foods in the cooler until you’re ready to cook and only take out the amount you intend to put on the grill. Separating raw and cooked foods will help avoid cross-contamination, and keeping foods covered will help avoid contamination from insects or foreign objects. Also, if you marinate meats or vegetables remember not to use the marinate for anything else. When through putting the marinated food on the grill, throw the marinate in the trash.

Hot foods should be kept hot and cold foods should be kept cold and beverages and perishable food should be kept in separate coolers.

Cook steaks and fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees. Pork and hamburgers are best cooked to an interior temperature of 160 degrees, while poultry should have an interior temperature of at least 165 degrees. A food thermometer is a small but valuable investment for helping ensure food safety by making certain the interior temperature of foods is adequate.

Also, keep hot foods at 140 degrees or higher until served. Cold foods prepared for picnicking should be kept at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower. The cooler should be placed in the interior of the vehicle, not the trunk.

Once you get to the picnic site, put the cooler in the shade, and only open it when necessary, leaving food inside until just before serving time. Cooked meat, poultry, fish or seafood should be eaten right away. Never let food sit out for more than an hour when it’s 90 degrees or hotter. Either eat it or store it in a cooler, insulated container or refrigerator within one hour or throw it in the trash.

Usually there’s about a two-hour maximum window for safely consuming food after the ice in a cooler has become water. But if you’re concerned about whether food is safe or not, the best rule of thumb is always: When in doubt, toss it out.

Symptoms of food-borne illness include a fever or headache, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Typically you can’t see, smell or taste food-borne bacteria, so you must pay special attention to food handling practices during the hot summer as well as throughout the year.

Don’t make someone sick at your picnic or any food occasion. Foodborne illness will spoil everyone’s time.

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2010-06-24 digital edition

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