Before you pack your picnic basket, fire up the grill, or load up your beach cooler, it’s important to follow a few simple steps for food safety.
According to Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN, foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, increases in the summer when we often take our food outside and expose it to higher temperatures.
“A lot of people might balk at food safety because they’ve let food sit before and never got sick,” Corwin said. “But … this game of ‘culinary Russian roulette’ is not worth the risk.”
Food safety is important for everyone, but especially for pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
Corwin offers these 6 safety tips:
1. Wash your hands
Always wash your hands before preparing or handling food, even when a kitchen faucet and soap are not nearby. Carry hand sanitizer and plenty of paper towels for times when running water isn’t practical.
2. Keep cold foods cool
On days when the mercury is rising and the sun is strong, keeping cold foods cool – 40 degrees or less – can be difficult. Here are some suggestions:
- Pack food in a cooler with ice packs.
- Remember that glass and metal containers cool faster than plastic.
- If you are packing meat for sandwiches, whether cooked or not, break a small amount into snack or sandwich bags, then place them between ice packs to make sure they stay cool. . If you wrap raw meat for broiling, store it in the bottom of your cooler to reduce the risk of raw juices dripping onto fresh foods.
- If you cook food before bringing it to your picnic and serve it cold, allow enough time for the food to cool completely before adding it to the picnic basket or cooler. Pack it in shallow containers for quick cooling.
- Do not leave the cooler in the trunk, even when traveling. Keep it with you in the air-conditioned part of the vehicle.
- Fill your cooler or choose a smaller one to fit the contents. A full cooler will stay cold longer than an empty cooler.
- Put the drinks in a separate cooler. Every time you open the cooler to take out another drink, you are letting hot air in.
3. Keep hot food hot
Use an insulated container for hot soup, chicken dip or chili.
4. Follow the “two hour rule”
After the perishable foods have been left to stand for two hours, throw them out. In hot summer temperatures, or in direct sunlight, this two hour rule can be reduced to one hour. If in doubt, throw it out.
5. Plan your shopping trips
Visit the frozen foods, dairy, and meat sections last when shopping so these foods aren’t refrigerated for as short a time as possible. Pack frozen and perishable foods in reusable, insulated grocery bags.
6. Grill safely
Do not contaminate. Use a dish and tongs for raw meat and a clean one for cooked meat. Also always use a food thermometer.
Research from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that one in four hamburger turns brown before it’s cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees. The only way to ensure that meat is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill bacteria causing foodborne illness is to use a food thermometer. Corwin recommends using this USDA Food Temperature Chart as a guide.
Follow these easy steps and you won’t have to be afraid to go outside to enjoy your food in the great outdoors.