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Do Not Forget Food Safety Or You Will Spoil Your Picnic

Aug 17, 2007
Ahh, summer picnics and barbecues on the horizon. But before your next al fresco adventure, take steps to make sure germs are not on the menu.

Bacteria in food kept between the temperatures of 60 and 120 degrees can double within an hour, so keeping food at the right temperature is a must during the summer months, says Susan Moores, M.Sci., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Food receives a lot of handling. Picnic foods such as potato or macaroni salads, sandwich fillings, hamburger patties and cut watermelon often receive a lot of handling during preparation. Handling increases the risk of contamination with harmful bacteria.

Food is not cooled rapidly after cooling. Some common picnic foods require precooking and are prepared in llarge quantities. Cooked foods must be rapidly cooled by putting in shallow pans and refrigerating immediately after cooking so harmful bacteria does not grow.

Warm temperatures promote bacterial growth. Equipment to keep hot food hot and cold food cold is usually not used and food sits out for long periods of time. Warm temperatures support the growth of harmful bacteria. The longer food is at warm temperatures, the more likely foodborne illness will result.

To stay problem-free:

Time it right. Foods can sit out for up to two hours, one hour if the outside temp is above 80 degrees. Keep an eye on the clock once foods leave the cooler or grill, says Moores. Once time is up, store food at 40 degrees or less or toss it.

Freeze goodies ahead of time. Frozen drinks, buns and other icy items help chill the cooler.

Cook it well. Grill meats to an internal temperature of 160F. Hamburgers should be cooked through; hot dogs should be steaming hot. Cook chicken until juices run clear, meat is no longer pink.

Avoid blackened or charred barbecued meats. They contain carcinogens. Keep meats from touching flames by placing items on the grill once coals start glowing after the flames have died down. This reduces the chance that meats will char, says Moores.

Bring alcohol wipes. Wash up before touching foods, or cooking and eating, Moores says.

Refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers. That way, they will cool fast; slow cooling gives bacteria more time to grow.

If you cannot keep cold food cold and hot food hot, take foods that do not need refrigeration:

1. peanut butter sandwiches
2. dried fruit, nuts, unpeeled fresh fruit -- apples, oranges, bananas
3. jelly sandwiches
4. unopened cans of food, meat, fish or fruit
5. cookies and cakes
6. crackers

Picnicking is a special part of many summertime activities. If picnic foods are not handled safely, they can cause foodborne illness. To prevent illness, take safety on your next picnic by reviewing these few quick tips on how to prepare safe and tasty food to keep you food safe and sound for your eating pleasure.
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