Keeping food safe at picnics or while eating outdoors poses special problems. The challenge of keeping hands and utensils clean is greater when preparing and eating food outdoors and away from the kitchen.
LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says a major food safety concern is cross-contamination, which occurs when harmful microorganisms from raw meat and poultry are transferred to cooked and other ready-to-eat foods from improperly cleaned hands, utensils and cutting boards.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a number of reminders about safe picnicking.
Keep everything clean. Find out if there's a source of potable (safe drinking) water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
Always wash your hands before and after handling food, and don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Soap and water are essential to cleanliness, so if you are going somewhere that will not have potable water, bring water with you. Even disposable wipes will do. Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving the safely cooked food.
Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. It’s essential to keep hot food hot and cold food cold on the way to, and throughout, the meal. Keeping food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Already-hot summertime temperatures can spike higher in direct sunlight on the beach or in a boat. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees).
Most bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees. The temperature range in between is known as the "danger zone." Bacteria multiply rapidly at these temperatures and can reach dangerous levels. Raw meat and poultry may contain bacteria that cause foodborne illness. 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.
Studies have shown that using a food thermometer is the only way to tell if harmful bacteria have been destroyed. For instance, even if they look fully cooked, one in four hamburgers may not be adequately cooked.
Keep hot food hot. If bringing hot takeout food such as fried chicken or barbecue, eat it within two hours of purchase. Or plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing it into an insulated cooler. In addition to a grill and fuel for cooking food, remember to pack a food thermometer to check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When reheating food at the outing, be sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees
Keep cold foods cold. Carry cold perishable food like hamburger patties, hotdogs, luncheon meats and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. Perishable cooked foods such as meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads must be kept cold, too.
Store food in the cooler except for brief times when serving. Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature. Discard any leftovers that have not remained cold.
For additional information about keeping food safe to eat, contact the extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or firstname.lastname@example.org