Keep Food Safe For Labor Day Picnic

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  8/29/2006 8:40:41 PM

If you plan to celebrate Labor Day with a cookout or picnic, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says to keep your holiday meal safe by following these guidelines:

– Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.

– Separate. Separate raw meat and poultry from cooked/ready-to-eat food to prevent cross-contamination.

– Cook. Cook food to a safe internal temperature. Check temperature with a food thermometer.

– Chill. Refrigerate or freeze promptly. Store food in a cooler with a cold source such as a frozen gel pack.

Most bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 F and 140 F. This temperature range is known as the "danger zone." Reames explains that bacteria multiply rapidly at these temperatures and can reach dangerous levels.

"Raw meat and poultry products may contain bacteria that cause foodborne illness," the nutritionist says. "They must be cooked to destroy these bacteria and held at temperatures that are either too hot or too cold for these bacteria to grow."

To keep foods safe to eat, hold them at temperatures outside the danger zone. That means below 40 F or above 140 F.

To make sure food is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria, use a food thermometer. Be sure to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food.

Cook hamburger patties to 160 F and ground poultry to 165 F. A food thermometer should also be used to check the internal temperature of combination dishes, casseroles and reheated foods.

Wait to remove meat from the refrigerator or cooler until just before cooking or reheating. Meat and poultry should be returned to the cooler or stored in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours after being cooked and only one hour when the temperature is above 90 F.

To cool food rapidly, refrigerate it in shallow containers. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator three to four days, but after that, they could begin to spoil. When you’re ready to eat leftovers, heat them to 165 F, or until hot and steaming.

Very young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk from any foodborne pathogen. These high-risk groups benefit the most from safe food handling.

For related family and consumer topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

Contact: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929 or

Editor: Mark Claesgens (225) 578-2939 or

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