The number of people who get sick from something they ate increases in the summer months. Bacteria love the warm, humid days of summer and multiply more quickly.
Picnics are popular all throughout the spring, summer and fall, but July is America’s designated National Picnic Month. A picnic is simply a pleasurable excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors.
Picnics can be family-oriented, an intimate escape for two or a large get-together. One reason July is so popular for picnics is because it’s when many families take their vacations.
Before you pack your picnic, you need to think about some basic food safety issues. The number of people who get sick from something they ate increases in the summer months. Bacteria love the warm, humid days of summer and multiply more quickly. Keep your picnic healthy and safe by remembering the following tips.
1. Beware of time and temperature. Perishable foods can be left outside for only one hour in temperatures hotter than 90 degrees. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold during transport, serving and storing of leftovers. Don’t travel with your perishable foods in the trunk of a car, where temps can reach 150 degrees.
2. Use a food thermometer. According to the USDA, one out of every four hamburgers turns brown in the middle before it has reached the safe minimum temperature of 160 degrees. You can’t tell if a food is safe to eat just by looking at it. Often, you can’t tell by smelling or tasting it either. The only way to be sure a food has reached a safe internal temperature is to use a food thermometer to check.
3. Bring more nonperishable foods. Reduce the worry of keeping foods at a certain temperature by limiting the amount of perishable foods you pack. It’s not just meat you have to worry about. Cut tomatoes and melons are prime foods for bacterial contamination if not kept refrigerated. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plant foods account for nearly half of food poisoning cases. Try potato chips instead of potato salad, and whole fruit instead of a fruit salad. Unopened cans, peanut butter, dried fruits and nuts are all good choices as well.
4. Two coolers are better than one. Although picnic baskets are pretty, they should be used only for nonperishable foods and picnic supplies. Use one cooler just for beverages, and pack another for perishable foods. Be sure any raw meats are securely sealed in a leak-proof container or bag to prevent juices from contaminating other foods. Cover containers or bags with plenty of ice. Once you reach your destination, set the cooler in the shade and cover it with a blanket. At the beach, bury the cooler in the sand. Open the cooler with perishable foods as infrequently as possible. Store your leftovers in the cooler, but if the ice has melted by the time you get home, do not keep those leftovers.
5. Keep it clean. Check ahead to find out if your destination has a source for safe drinking water. If not, you’ll need to bring water, soap and paper towels for washing hands and cleaning up. Wet wipes will also work. Remember to wash your hands before and after handling food and to keep raw food separate from cooked foods.
Follow these food safety rules whether your picnic is on a grassy slope, in a car, on a boat or at the beach to ensure that the day isn’t ruined by some unwanted bugs.