Potlucks and barbecues are a great way to enjoy summer with your friends and family, but a bout of food poisoning is anything but a picnic. The CDC reports that America sees about 76 million cases of foodborne illness annually. Don’t let your loved ones be among them — consider these food safety tips before you pack your next picnic.
Don’t leave food in the danger zone
The “Danger Zone” isn’t just a Kenny Loggins song — it’s the FDA’s name for food storage temperatures between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. If refrigerated food is left in this moderate temperature range for over 2 hours, bacteria can multiply rapidly, spoiling the dish. In outdoor temperatures above 90 degrees, it only takes 60 minutes for food to go bad. Don’t take chances with your health — if you’re not sure how long that casserole or potato salad has been sitting out, pitch it in the trash. It’s better to waste leftovers than to roll the dice with your health.
Rules on using coolers
According to WebMD, meat, beverages, and perishable ready-to-eat food should all be stored in separate coolers to avoid cross-contamination. And when you’re packing coolers, don’t just put the food on the ice. Instead, sandwich the perishables between layers of ice.
It’s essential to keep all animal products properly refrigerated before cooking. Wash your hands after handling raw meat, and be mindful of what you touch after your hands are contaminated. Keep track of what the meat has touched, too — for instance, if a plate or cutting board has had raw meat on it, the FDA warns that you shouldn’t re-use it for anything else until it’s been thoroughly cleaned. If you’re marinating your meal, be sure to refrigerate the food in the marinade until you’re ready to cook it. And avoid the temptation to be thrifty by re-using old marinade as sauce. Instead, the FDA recommends setting aside some uncontaminated marinade for future use.
Know safe cooking temperatures
Grilling is one of summer’s many delights, but the pathogens in undercooked meat can turn a fun family gathering into a queasy affair. Instead of risking burning that perfectly marbled steak or cooking those chicken thighs until they’re jerky, invest in a food thermometer to help you make informed cooking decisions. To check the temperature of what you’re cooking, put the probe into the thickest portion of the meat. Hamburgers and sausages should be heated to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. All products made from poultry, whether whole or ground, should be cooked to 165 degrees, while fresh cuts of pork, beef, or lamb should reach 145 degrees, based on FDA recommendations.
Keep it clean
It’s easy to spread germs at a gathering. While soap and running water may not be available at your picnic venue, you can provide other ways for your guests to stay clean. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wet wipes are useful for stopping pathogens, according to WebMD.
Don’t let foodborne illness get in the way of your summertime fun — follow these easy tips to keep your friends and family feeling good.