Here in the U.S., it’s getting to be picnic and outdoor eating time. It’s always more fun to eat outdoors (as long as the bugs or pollen aren’t getting you), but eating outdoors can be quite a bit of work if you are the organizer.
There seems to be two types of people who do outdoor meals. Those who get everything ready, eat, then run around immediately after the picnic and put food away while the guests chat. Then there are those who are more relaxed, leaving the food out “just in case” someone has an emergency hunger pang; no one in the second group seems to keep track of how long that food has been sitting out.
The menu may vary, but no matter which type of host you are, food safety principles remain the same. Here are some key principles to help keep your family or group safe from food poisoning during the outdoors eating season.
1. Keep cold foods cold. Some people take better care of their beer than they do their food! Be sure to get plenty of ice for the insulated cooler for both beverages and food. And the food can’t just sit on top of the ice, it has to be covered with ice. (Remember science class? Cold travels to a lower level, so if food sits on top of ice it can get too warm, even in a cooler).
It’s best to keep the ice chest inside the car, not in the trunk, on the way to the event (the trunk can reach 150 degrees). And when you get to your picnic site, put the cooler in the shade and cover with an old blanket to keep the cold in.
2. Keep hot foods hot. You may not want to bring a hot dish to your outing if you have no way to keep it hot, over 140 degrees F. Bacteria thrive in lukewarm temps.
If there is no way to keep food hot or cold, then bring foods to your outing that don’t need refrigeration, such as chips, crackers, peanut butter, peanut butter and/or jelly sandwiches, dried fruit, nuts, unpeeled fresh fruit, cookies and cakes.
3. Avoid cross-contamination, with raw and cooked items. This means, when grilling meat, chicken or fish, don’t put the cooked meat back on the same plate that held the raw meat. And don’t use the same cutting board for cutting up the beef cubes for kabobs as the salad vegetables.
4. Remember the 2-hour rule. And sometimes it’s a 1-hour rule. Perishable foods need to be put away within two hours to keep the food out of the “danger zone” (that is, between 40 and 140 degrees F). And if the temperature outside is 90 or more, the put away time is one hour.
5. Wash your hands with water when prepping food. Nothing beats good old soap and water when making foods and handling raw stuff. There had been some thought that hand sanitizer would be just as good as washing, but that is usually not the case. (Hand sanitizers stop the spread of germs in a hospital or clinic setting, but they cannot stop the bacteria that causes food poisoning).