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Keep the bugs out of the picnic

July 13th, 2011

Keep the bugs out of the picnic

By Sylvia Davis

Summer is here and it’s time to picnic!

But before you go, you should think about how to keep food safe and healthy on warm-weather outings. Cases of food-borne illness tend to rise during summer because harmful bacteria that may be present in food grow faster in high temperatures. And since bacteria also need moisture to flourish, our warm, humid summer weather is just a picnic for them!

To keep your picnicking safe, follow these four simple steps to safer summertime food:

  • CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often. Unwashed hands and surfaces are perfect vehicles for conducting bacteria into food. Hand-washing facilities might not be readily available at picnic sites, so pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Plan the menu carefully so you don’t have raw meat and poultry on cutting boards that can’t be cleaned without soap and water.
  • SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate. When packing the cooler for an outing, it’s best to take one cooler for raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs, and a separate cooler for ready-to-eat food. If only one cooler is used, it’s essential to wrap raw meat and poultry very securely to prevent juices from coming in contact with other food. If serving a food that will be marinated, marinate it in the refrigerator before you leave home or in the cooler with ice, not out at room temperature or outdoors on the table. Use clean plates and utensils with the safely cooked food, not plates with raw meat juices on them.
  • COOK: Cook food to recommended temperatures. Food is safely cooked when it reaches the correct internal temperature needed to kill harmful bacteria. Take along a food thermometer. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very quickly on the outside, so be sure that the items are cooked through thoroughly. Cook hamburger and other ground meat (veal, lamb and pork) to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Partially cooking food ahead of time allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them. Plan to cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site.
  • CHILL: Refrigerate promptly. Holding food at an incorrect temperature is a prime cause of food-borne illness. Never leave food in the “danger zone” (40 to 140 degrees) for more than two hours, or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. Cold foods such as luncheon meat, cooked meat, chicken and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen gel packs. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car, and place in the shade or shelter out of the sun whenever possible. Chill cold drinks in a separate cooler so the cooler with the perishable food is not constantly being opened.— Have a question? Contact the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office at 229-734-3015, weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon or 1 to 5 p.m.
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