Summertime brings together friends and families outside for vacations, BBQ’s, and park picnics. Through our travels and gatherings, food is a big part of it. We love to come together and share family favorite snacks and meals. As we prepare, transport, and eat these delicious foods, it’s important to keep food safety top of mind. Every step from purchasing to consuming can make all the difference in controlling the potential bacteria and sickness it can cause. Anyone can be at risk, but those that are at a higher risk are our very young and older populations. In addition, those that are pregnant or have certain health conditions such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or cancer. The Centers for Disease Control reports 1 in 6 Americans are affected by one of the 31 known bacteria each year. The symptoms and severity can vary with each case and bacteria. The most common are high fever, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. They can occur anywhere from 6 hours after consuming the food to several days later. Keep your friends and family healthy by following food safety best practices while enjoying the great outdoors.
When packing coolers for a picnic, keep hot foods and cold foods separate. If possible, put drinks in a separate cooler as it is more likely to be opened and closed often which causes the temperature to rise and can be a potential risk for other cold food items. When packing raw meats and poultry sanitize the cooler first. Next, pack them in clean and tightly sealed containers to prevent the raw juices from spreading to other foods. Additionally, to prevent the spread of potential bacteria separate fresh fruits, and vegetables from other raw foods. Be sure to pack coolers with food no more than three-quarters full, saving the rest of the space for ice packs to keep your food items at a safe temperature.
For grilling on the go, you may not have access to wash cooking plates and utensils. When packing, bring 2 sets, one for raw and one for cooked food items. This helps to prevent the transfer of potential bacteria from one state of the food to another. Don’t leave home without a food thermometer. This helps check the temperature of your cold items to ensure they are staying under 40 degrees. Keep the thermometer handy when grilling your protein items to ensure they are cooked to the proper internal temperature to keep unwanted bacteria away. When checking the temperature stay away from any bones and insert in the thickest part. Poultry should be cooked to 165°F, ground meats 160°F, and beef, pork, and fish to 145°F. When serving food make sure hot foods are kept hot, 140° or above. Keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot keeps them out of the danger zone which is 40-140. This zone allows bacteria to grow and multiply the longer it sits and the higher the temperature it is exposed to. Even though it is easy to leave food out while having a picnic while socializing and playing games the risk is not worth it. Food should not be left out for more than 2 hours and if the temperature is over 90°F, less than 1 hour.
Wash hands often, keep raw and cooked foods separate, cook foods to their proper temperatures, and keep foods out of the danger zone by using a thermometer and storing them away. Gather your friends and family for summer picnics filled with laughter and fun, but don’t let bacteria have a seat at your picnic table!