Picnic safety

May 20, 1997

Picnic safety

Don't allow foodborne illness to spoil your day


Staff Writer

It's no picnic when food poisoning invades your gathering.

There is a significant rise in foodborne illness in the summer, says Diane Van, acting supervisor of United States Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline.

Each year an estimated 4,000 deaths and 5 million sicknesses result from food-borne illnesses from the consumption of meat and poultry products, Van says. Figures vary widely because people often don't report it when they get sick from food, she says.


Mayonnaise isn't one of the culprits, says Vickie Mabry, communications manager for The Association for Dressings and Sauces.

Unsafe homemade mayonnaise recipes, which often contained raw eggs, gave birth to the myth that the dressing causes food poisoning, she says.

Commercially prepared mayonnaise has ingredients that protect against bacteria. It has very acidic ingredients, such as vinegar and lemon juice, and bacteria have a tough time growing in it, says food technologist Pam Chumley, the Atlanta-based association's vice president of regulatory and technical affairs.

Time, temperature

Time and temperature are the biggest causes of foodborne illness, says Cindy Wilson, manager of communications for The Industry Council on Food Safety, based in Chicago.

"Foods are left out too long, or they aren't heated to the proper temperature," Wilson says.

Bacteria multiply quickly at room temperatures of between 40 and 145 degrees, especially on the surface of food, but most can't grow or spread in very cold or very hot temperatures.

Cross-contamination is a major source of food poisoning, Wilson says.

If you're carrying raw food on a plate to the grill, don't put the cooked food back on the same plate. The juices from the raw meat can contaminate the cooked meat.

"Make sure raw foods don't come in contact with cooked foods or vegetables," Wilson says.

Contamination also can happen when foil or plastic wrap is reused, Mabry says.

It also can occur when you place a knife in the mayonnaise or other condiment, spread it across an undercooked hamburger and put the knife back in the jar.

Hamburger especially needs to be thoroughly cooked, Wilson says. Contamination occurs on the outside of a piece of meat, and when the meat is ground up, any bacteria will spread throughout the meat, she says.

Ground meats should be cooked until the juices run clear and the interior isn't pink - beef, veal, lamb and pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, and chicken and turkey should reach 165 degrees.

Steaks or roasts should be cooked to at least 145 degrees, while pork should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Cook a whole turkey breast to 170 degrees and a whole chicken to 180 degrees.

 For information:

- The Industry Council on Food Safety is offering consumers the free booklet "Chef CookSmart's Guide to Safe Food Preparation and Handling." Call 1-800-266-5762.

- For answers to food safety questions, call the United States Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555.

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