· Cooked food should be prepared ahead of time to allow for sufficient chilling in the refrigerator. Large amounts of food should be divided into shallow containers for fast chilling. Keep such foods refrigerated until you're ready to leave the house. Don't pack your lunch ahead of time.
· Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes, bags, and coolers are best for keeping food cold, but when using paper lunch bags, you might want to double bag in order to help insulate the food. A source of ice (such as an ice pack) also should be used inside a cooler, in order to help keep the food cold.
· When transporting hot foods such as soup, stew or chili, use an insulated container. First fill the container with boiling water, then let it stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the food. If using a microwave oven to reheat food, be sure to reheat to at least 165 degrees.
· If you are planning on doing any grilling or having a backyard barbecue, defrost meat and poultry before placing them on the grill, so that they cook more evenly. You can use the refrigerator for slow and safe thawing or thaw any sealed packages in cold water if you prefer. If the food is going to be placed directly on the grill, you can even use a microwave to defrost. At any rate, be sure to always have a food thermometer present when grilling, because the safety of the food cannot be determined just by its appearance.
· Although it might seem like a no-brainer, it's never wise to depend on fresh water from a lake or stream for drinking. Even the clearest and safest-looking water might contain harmful pathogens, so always bring bottled or tap water from home for drinking and washing hands, if necessary.
In addition, there are some other important temperatures to keep in mind when preparing food for a picnic or barbeque. Always cook the following foods to these temperatures:
· Chicken: 165 degrees
· Beef and Pork: 155 degrees (including hamburgers)
· Leftovers and previously cooked food: Reheat to 165 degrees
· Eggs and other foods: 145 degrees
Follow the above rules and let common sense be your guide.
Also, if you're more adventurous, be careful with pit roasting, the cooking of meat in a large, level hole dug in the ground. In this process, a hardwood fire is built, requiring wood equal to about 2 1/2 times the volume of the pit. The hardwood should be allowed to burn until the wood reduces and the pit is half full with burning coals. Unfortunately, this can require at least four to six hours burning time, and cooking with this method might require 10 to 12 hours or more. A meat thermometer should be used in this process, in order to determine the meat's safety for consumption.
For more information, call the Washington County Health Department's Environmental Health Division at 1-240-313-3400.