It's "summertime when the livin' is easy." What better way to celebrate a beautiful summer day than a picnic? Just make sure you don't invite food poisoning! Did you know that there are more cases of food poisoning in the summer months than other times of the year? That's because warmer temperatures make it easy for bacteria to grow in your food. So, before you pack the picnic basket, follow these tips from Dr. Janie Burney, food safety specialist with UT Extension, to be sure your picnic is safe.
Plan ahead to be sure you have the items you need, such as a food thermometer, cooler chest with ice, plenty of clean utensils, storage containers for leftovers, paper towels and trash bags. Check out your picnic site to see if you'll have running water, grills, picnic tables and containers for trash.
Prepare ahead to keep food safely chilled. Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent growth of bacteria. Thaw meat in the refrigerator ahead of time because it's not safe to thaw on a counter overnight. Meat, poultry and seafood can be packed still frozen before you leave for you picnic so that they stay colder longer. However, timing is important since it can take 50 percent longer to cook frozen meat or poultry compared to fully thawed fresh meat and poultry. Avoid partially cooking meat and poultry ahead of time. This can be risky. It is a better idea to cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature at the picnic.
Wrap raw meat, poultry and seafood securely. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared or cooked foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
Clean your fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler. Wash produce with skins or rinds even if you plan to peel them before eating. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled "ready to eat," "washed" or "triple washed" do not need to be washed.
Chill perishable foods, such as hotdogs, burgers, poultry, deviled eggs and macaroni or potato salads in a well-insulated, clean cooler with plenty of ice or freezer gel packs. They need to stay cold. Organize your cooler with beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. That way, the perishable foods won't be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures every time picnickers reach for a cold drink.
Pick a safe spot for your cooler in the back seat of your air-conditioned car, and once you arrive at the picnic site, place it in the shade. Serve food quickly from the cooler and return it fast. Once at the picnic site, limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as you can. This helps to keep foods cold longer. When temperatures are above 90 degrees, food should not sit out of the cooler over an hour.
Prepare your picnic site by making sure hands and surfaces are clean. Use a water jug, soap and paper towels if you don't have access to running water. You also could use moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands. Take care to keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.
Cook meat and poultry to safe temperatures. Hotdogs should be sizzling hot, and burgers should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit inside. Don't go by the color of a hamburger, use your food thermometer to be sure. Chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Grilled food can be kept hot until serving by moving it to the side of the grill rack away from the coals. If you marinated your raw meat and plan to use it, be sure to heat it until it boils first.
Serve food on clean plates and utensils. Don't use the same plate and utensils for cooked food that were used for the raw food.
Keep your leftovers safe. Unpack your cooler as soon as you get home. Refrigerate leftover meats and salads if they have stayed cold. If they don't feel cold or you are unsure, throw them away. We all hate to waste food, but getting sick is not worth it.
These tips will help you enjoy picnics with family and friends this summer. Bacteria that can make you sick will not be invited!
UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.
For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (615) 444-9584.