BLUE SPRINGS, Mo.–As temperatures rise, so does the risk for foodborne illness. So remember to treat your picnic basket, grill, and cooler as an extension of your kitchen, says a University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist.
“To prevent illness, apply the same home food safety techniques whether preparing meals inside or outdoors,” said Lynda Johnson.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 76 million people in the U.S. get sick from foodborne illnesses each year, and about 5,000 die. “Don’t let those unwanted guests, bacteria, spoil your backyard barbecue or family reunion,” Johnson said.
The raw and the cooked
Don’t set frozen meat or chicken out on the counter to thaw. “These foods are highly perishable and should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, or in the microwave,” Johnson said.
Other tips for safely dealing with raw meat:
-Marinate foods in the refrigerator.
-Never reuse any marinade used on raw meat or poultry.
-Avoid cross-contamination at the grill by using different utensils and platters for raw and cooked food. Pack extra color-coded plates and utensils to help prevent cross-contamination. Use different spoons and forks to taste, stir and serve.
-Before placing meat or poultry on the grill, scrub the grill with hot, soapy water or heat it to kill microorganisms.
Out with the old, in with the new
When replenishing serving dishes at your party, whether inside or out, never add fresh food to perishable food that has been sitting at room temperature on a table. “For example, place a fresh dish of vegetable dip or potato salad on your serving table and discard any leftovers in the original serving dish,” Johnson said.
When possible, keep perishable foods like potato salad, deviled eggs or meat and cheese trays on ice while on the serving table. Fill a larger pan or bowl with ice and place the dish on top.
Clean and cool
“Nearly half of all cases of foodborne illness could be eliminated if people would wash their hands more often when preparing and handling food,” Johnson said.
Washing your hands is easy to do at home, but it’s a different story at a picnic site. “Research indicates water-free hand sanitizers don’t work as well as soap and water in reducing bacteria,” she said. When a water supply is not available at your picnic site, take along jugs of water for hand-washing.
Drop a refrigerator thermometer into the cooler to make sure you are storing foods at a safe temperature. You should store perishable foods at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to keep coolers stocked with plenty of ice or ice packs. Freezing juice boxes and bottles of water can help keep other foods cool and then can be enjoyed as a refreshing treat after they thaw.
Transport the cooler in the air-conditioned interior of the car, not in a hot trunk. At the picnic site, keep the cooler in the shade.
Never leave food at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour if temperatures go above 90 degrees, Johnson said.
For more information on food safety from MU Extension, including short articles, answers to frequently asked questions and learning opportunities, see http://missourifamilies.org/foodsafety/.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has detailed information on safe food handling at www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Safe_Food_Handling_Fact_Sheets/index.asp.