Posted by: scootrah | August 18, 2014

Tips for Picnic Food Safety

Yesterday was our big family reunion. Now a lot of you out there would rather jump off a bridge than spend times with your family, but I LOVE mine! They’re really fun, funny, warm people and we have a lot of laughs together. A couple of the older cousins had brought photos of relatives long-gone that none of us had ever seen before, and pics of the old family homestead back in Kentucky – what a treat! There was lots of amazing food to eat, and I took a peach pie for my cousin Leslie because the two of us LOVE pie, and she brought one of the most amazing carrot cakes I’ve ever tasted (and promises to share the recipe with me for an upcoming blog post).

My cousin Joyce and her family always take on the task of arriving early to set everything up in the park for the rest of us. I was so impressed with their clever idea for the food table – her first smart move was to pick a shaded, covered spot that wasn’t in full sun, then she had her husband made a simple frame from 2 x 4s that fit on top of the table. She stretched a disposable plastic painting tarp across this and filled it with several bags of ice so the bowls and plates of food could be set inside and stay chilled. At the end of the event, she just poked holes in the bottom for the water to drain out and easy clean up. The food stayed well chilled – and safe – an no stomach aches for the drive home.

There’s still a lot of warm picnic and reunion weather left stretching past Labor Day, so I thought it would be good to do a quick picnic food safety refresher.Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 11.09.15 AM

First and foremost,  keep raw foods away from cooked foods. If you’re going to grill or BBQ at your event, the raw meat (especially chicken!) should not come in contact with cooked food. Even if you’ve covered bowls well with plastic wrap or foil, meat juice could drip onto bowl rims/sides that you then put your hands on and touch something else. Just put the meat in its own chest or insulated bag with ice packs and you’ll be fine. Don’t forget that utensils and cutting boards shouldn’t be kept with raw meat either.

To serve grilled food, use a clean plate or platter. Cooked meat should never be put back onto a plate you placed the raw meat on unless it has been thoroghly washed. Fortunately, paper plates for serving and eating make this easy!

Cover picnic tables with cloths or disposable covers – you don’t know what has been on the table before you got there, and because most tables at public parks and camp sites are unpainted/untreated wood, you can’t properly wipe them down.

MAYONNAISE: For years we’ve heard that mayo would make us sick if left outside too long. Actually, the real problem is foods the mayonnaise is mixed with, especially foods that have been handled/mishandled a lot (think potatoes cut for salad at home – were you wearing gloves when handling them before they went into the salad?) and protein foods. These are often added to mayo-based dressings/filling while still warm and that’s when bacteria can start to grow.

WATERMELON: What picnic or reunion isn’t that much better with big, ripe slices of watermelon to enjoy on a hot day? Cut melons need to be kept cold – Bacteria that can cause food-borne illness is often present on the rind of melons, so make sure they are washed thoroughly before cutting, and since most melons are not acidic, they can support the growth of harmful bacteria. Don’t make it complicated, just wash, cut and refrigerate or keep chilled – take an extra cooler with ice along to a big gathering for keeping cut melon in.

And speaking of coolers, take a cooler for sodas and bottled water that is separate from a cooler for chilled food. You can open the beverage cooler often without fear of chilled food getting warm. I like to leave a stack of napkins or paper towels next to the beverage cooler to wipe soda can rims – kids are often playing games, building sand castles or mud pies before they reach in for a cold drink, getting ice and cans dirty.

When the party is over and the good byes have been said, pack your leftovers with care. If the food has been sitting out for more than two hours on a table, throw it out. The outside temperature is probably warmer than you think (it was 80° yesterday at our), and if the temp is over 90 degrees, food becomes unsafe after an hour! If you do pack leftovers to take home, use the same tips you did to get the food there – cover it with plastic wrap or place in sealable bags, use ice or ice packs to keep chilled. Then don’t forget to unpack and refrigerate right away!

Don’t over-worry, stress and fret about food safety for your event – these few simple steps are EASY and if you just use common sense you’ll be fine. You’re there to have fun, so help yourself to an extra helping of potato salad, don’t forget to hug grandma an extra couple times,  and remember when you pack up, “If in doubt, throw it out!” REALLY.


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