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Picnic & Tailgating Food Safety Tips

Picnic & Tailgate Menu Ideas from AlansKitchen.comIn warm weather there would not be any problem in caring for food to go, if you could just throw the refrigerator under one arm and take it with you. Simply, that is the best way to battle food poisoning. You want to keep perishable foods, especially meat and poultry, cold between preparation and serving.

Why keep food cold?

At warm temperatures above 60� F., food poisoning bacteria can begin to multiply and cause illness. At summer temperatures above 80� F., they multiply very quickly. While food poisoning usually means uncomfortable intestinal flu-like symptoms, it can be serious in the young, the old, and people with other illnesses. The rarely occurring botulism, of course, is always serious.

Food poisoning is a larger problem than you might think too over 2 million people a year is affected! Moreover, food poisoning bacteria are tough to deal with because you usually do not even know they are present. They are microscopic in size, and you normally cannot see, smell, or taste them.

For food safety, prevention is the watchword. By observing the cold storage, sanitation, and thorough cooking rules in this booklet, you can keep your food safe any time you pack it to go.

�Let�s Have A Picnic?�

When a fine summer afternoon makes everyone �think picnic,� you could find yourself organizing one. Never fear. Find the picnic hamper and the cooler. Then thumb through these warm weather food care hints before you head to the store.

Picnic shopping

  • Buy perishable products last at the store and get them right home to the refrigerator, or into the portable ice-chest or insulated bag you are taking on the picnic. Never leave perishables in a hot car while you run other errands.

Cold storage of picnic food

  • For quick use, you can keep perishable products in the refrigerator for a few days. If the store wrap on meat and poultry is clean and not torn, leave it on. Otherwise, re-wrap products in clean plastic or aluminum wrap. Make sure the refrigerator is cooling food to 40� F or lower.
  • For longer storage, freeze food. Wrap items tightly in heavy freezer foil or bags. Make sure your freezer registers 0� F or lower. NOTE: Mayonnaise-based meat, poultry and fish salads do not freeze well. Nor do tomatoes and lettuce.

Thawing -do if the night before

Contrary to common practice, it is not safe to thaw meat and poultry on the kitchen counter. Bacteria can multiply dangerously in the outer layers before you thaw inner areas. Instead...

  • To allow plenty of time for larger cuts to thaw, take meat or poultry out of the freezer and put it on a refrigerator shelf a night or two before you need it. Small cuts will usually thaw in the refrigerator over-night.
  • However, if the meat is still partially frozen when you are ready to leave, no problem. Just cook it a bit longer at the picnic.
  • And cook everything thoroughly. You should cook hamburger patties, pork chops, and ribs until all the pink is gone; poultry until there is no red in the joints. You should cook fresh fish until it �flakes� with a fork.
  • Steak? If you like your steak rare or medium-rare, just remember that there is a chance that some food poisoning organisms can survive such short cooking times.

Take what you know about kitchen cleanliness out to the grill

  • If there is no water faucet available, use disposable, wet handi-wipes to clean your hands before working with food.
  • Keep bacteria on raw meat and poultry from spreading. Wash your hands again after working with raw meat or poultry and before handling other food.

Moreover, take up cooked meat and poultry with clean utensils onto a fresh plate for serving. Do not re-use utensils, plates, or bowls you used with the raw product, for either the cooked meat or the other food.

COOL-IT with a cooler

For a relaxed, worry-free picnic, keep your perishable food, ham, potato or macaroni salad, hamburger, hot dogs, lunch meat, cooked beef or chicken, deviled eggs, custard or cream pies, in a cooler.

While you should keep all mayonnaise-based salads on ice, the mayonnaise you buy at the store is not a food poisoning villain. Its high acid content actually slows bacterial growth. However, homemade mayonnaise, if made without lemon juice or vinegar, can be risky.

The cooler should be well insulated and packed with ice, or you can use a freeze-pack insert. Cold drinks in cans help keep other food cool too. When possible, place the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid on.

Serving young picnickers

Toddlers who do not chew food well can choke when they try to �swallow things whole.� To minimize this danger, supervise mealtime. Keep the child seated. Cut hotdogs lengthwise in narrow strips before serving. Watch carrot and celery sticks, grapes, apples, cookies, and nuts too. Cut or crumble these foods into pieces too small to block the child's throat.


Put perishable foods back in the cooler as soon as you finish eating. Do not leave them out while you go for a swim or hike. When possible, put the chest in the passenger area of the car for the trip home. It is much cooler than the trunk!

If you were gone no more than 4 or 5 hours, and your perishables were on ice except when cooked and served, you should be able to save the leftovers.

�Take Me Out to the Football Game!�

Question: Could food poisoning invade your cool weather outing?

Let us say it is a football game or a concert � whatever would prompt you to head out to the stadium with a great hot supper to share with friends. Would not the low outside temperatures eliminate most problems with food poisoning?

Not entirely. Food poisoning is much less of a threat in cooler weather, but bacteria can still grow any time they enjoy the right temperatures, between 60� and 125� F, long enough.

Therefore, if the centerpiece of your tailgate supper, a hot chili, stew, chowder, or sausage casserole, cools into the DANGER temperature zone, it could become a target.

How can you prevent it?

Use the thermos bottle properly

A clean, well-functioning thermos can keep your hot food at a safe temperature for several hours, but it's up to you to make sure the thermos is working properly.

  • Check the seal around the stopper to make sure it fits tightly. This will keep the food at a safe, high temperature.
  • Right before use, rinse the clean thermos with boiling water. Then bring the food to as high a temperature as you can before pouring it in. This will keep the food temperature as high as possible until you are ready to serve it.

If you can keep your hot food above 140� F, it should stay safe. (At 140� F, liquid is hot to the touch.)

  • Try to prepare just enough thermos food to serve your guests without leftovers. If you do have a tiny bit left, you should probably discard it when you get home.

Taking a casserole?

A thoroughly cooked casserole will usually stay safe (and warm) in cool weather if you insulate it well..


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