Just about everyone will attend some sort of picnic, cookout or outdoor get-together this spring or summer at some point. And while this may be a good time to get together and enjoy a great meal outdoors with friends, this is also a good time for a seasonal health woe that we all need to be made aware of: food-borne illness.
According to MSNBC.com, each summer, the Centers for Disease Control and USDA report that food safety-related illnesses increase over 150 percent. When the temperatures outside are higher, the chances of leaving food in the “danger zone” – anything above 40 and below 140 degrees – is also greater and is bound to happen at family outings and picnics.
In the “danger zone” microorganisms that cause food-borne illnesses multiply and your chances of being affected by a food-borne illness multiply as well. Here are a few guidelines provided by MSNBC.com to prevent such illness from ruining your picnic.
• Cook- Make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly. And be sure your grill is hot before you cook. Electric grills should be heated at least 15 minutes prior to cooking and gas grills at least 10 minutes. Don’t rely on a visual image thinking that meats that are brown are thoroughly cooked. Experts suggest using a thermometer when you are cooking for a picnic or an outdoor event. By using a thermometer you will know that your food is adequately heated and able to be consumed without harming others. Make sure that ground beef is heated to 160 degrees, steaks and roasts to 150, poultry to 180. If you are BBQing fish make sure it is cooked thoroughly and be especially careful with shellfish.
• Clean- Whether you are planning on being outside or not, when you are working with foods that others will be eating it is especially important to remember to wash your hands with soap and water. The amount of bacteria that can be passed from uncooked foods to your hands is great, so it is best to be as safe as possible. If soap and water are not available, then a hand sanitizer will work just as well. Also, fill a spray bottle with water and one tablespoon of bleach to keep handy to wipe off surfaces and utensils. Wipe dry with a heavy duty paper towel and throw those germs away — don’t use cloth towels that help germs breed and multiply.
• Chill- When you are heading outdoors with your meal, remember to use a cooler that will keep your food at a cool temperature. Here’s an idea, freeze juice boxes; kids and adults love them and they also are terrific temperature controllers. Intermingle them with your foods and they will help keep your foods cold. Also make sure to pack a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature. You would be surprised to see just how quick the temperature changes — and that means the foods’ temperature as well. Be sure to keep your cooler and all foods in the passenger compartment and out of direct sunlight. Most trunks are not air cooled and can raise the temperature of your foods to well over 100 degrees.
If you don’t have a cooler or are unable to refrigerate your food, then perhaps you should bring an item that does not require heating or cooling to your picnic. And don’t forget to refrigerate leftovers as soon as you can- no more than one hour after cooking, especially when it’s warm outside.
• Separate- Never, never, never use the same utensils to serve a hot meal that you used to prepare that same meal. Be sure to wash all of your prep utensils with hot water and soap before using them in any way. Also use plastic Tupperware-type containers or Zip-Lock bags to separate foods and securely seal them. Avoid paper bags, aluminum foil or plastic wrap where the foods can leak and cross contaminate other foods.
By following these four simple rules, your next picnic or get together won’t be ruined by any nasty food-borne illnesses and your guests will enjoy themselves even more.