Picnic Food Safety

With picnic and cook-out season here-I thought it would be a good time to post some tips to keep your picnic safe.

 

Common Picnic Problems

Besides ants, the biggest concern at a picnic should be food safety.  While most of us know to keep cold foods cold, and hot food hot, there are some basic things we should all do to insure a safe, happy day.

Away from home and refrigeration, it is can be tricky to keep foods cold until ready to serve. Bring plenty of ice and coolers for all perishable food. Keep food cold until you are ready to cook or eat it. Get food back into coolers as soon as everyone has finished eating.

Package raw meats extra carefully.  Raw meat juices, spilling on salads, will make them inedible. Pack raw meats separately if you can, or on the bottom of the cooler in a leak-proof container. You might also consider bringing meats like burgers frozen to thaw on the grill or in the cooler. Smoked meats are safer than their non-smoked counterparts but both types can spoil. The ideal situation is to have one cooler only for raw meats.

Don’t make burgers on site. Outdoor prep is always tricky. Better to form burgers at home, where you can wash all surfaces, as well as your hands, thoroughly. If you  make them there- bring disposable gloves and a lightweight cutting board to work on.

Never use ice for drinks that has been in contact with raw meat, or even if any raw meats have been stored in the ice. Keep beverage ice in its own cooler, or keep it bagged to insure it is clean and safe.

Solid blocks of ice melt more slowly than cubes, and make good cooler inserts for long, hot summer days. Also, keep coolers in the shade to offset the power of the sun.

Meat should be cooked thoroughly and ground meat is always more at risk for contamination. Make sure your fire is hot enough. Allow for chilly, windy days and pack extra coals or other fuel, to keep the fire hot throughout the cooking process.

Make sure you don’t put cooked meats on the tray that the raw meat was on. Also have different prepping and serving utensils for both the raw and cooked meats.

You can also precook meats (like chicken pieces or ribs), cool and chill until ready for dinner. Then just heat them up over the coals. This way you don’t have the worry of bringing along raw meats and you’ll spend less time cooking and more time having fun.

Mayo is not the evil purveyor of bacteria some people think. Mayo from a fresh jar, can actually retard the growth of bacteria. This does not mean you can leave the potato salad in the trunk for 3 hours because it has mayo in it. It just means that mayonnaise is not the culprit for food spoilage- bad handling was likely the cause.

While 2 hours is the maximum for food to be left out before being refrigerated again, use common sense. Obviously, on a 95 degree day that time is much shorter. Rather than one big bowl of pasta salad, bring several smaller ones that you can switch out. That way you always have cold salad that is safe. And bring plenty of serving spoons. It does no good to swap out the bowls of pasta salad for a fresh bowl, if you keep using the same serving spoon. Try to stay in the shade, too. Bringing some sort of canopy can keep food cooler than sitting in direct sunlight.

I am a big believer in a good hand washing being the best way to clean your hands- but you might not have running water where you are. Hand sanitizers are great when you don’t have hand washing as an option. I also bring a package of sanitizing wipes, in case a surface needs cleaning up, too.

If it is a hot day- you might want to have a large container, filled with ice, that you can put the bowls of salad into, to keep them colder. That way the salads are surrounded by the ice and stay cold a lot longer. You can use a small baby pool. I like to use a container designed for under the bed storage. Nice size.

In the end, it is about using common sense, and copious amounts of ice. Remember, that if you lose track of time, forget to put something back in the cooler or leave something in the trunk, it is always better to play it safe. When in doubt-throw it out.