Keep dining al fresco safe

June 22, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Warm weather is ideal for enjoying outdoor picnics and barbecues - the perfect environment for bacteria and other pathogens in food to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness.

With a little knowledge and planning, though, outdoor picnics can be enjoyable and safe.

Raw animal products can be a source of unwanted bacteria. Cooking meat kills pathogens that might be present. When grilling foods, preheat the coals on your grill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the coals are lightly coated with ash. Be sure to bring along a meat thermometer to confirm that hamburger patties have reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees before removing from the grill. For grilled chicken, the recommended internal temperature is 170 degrees.

Thoroughly wash all utensils, cutting boards and hands that have touched raw meat before they come into contact with other foods. Pack duplicate sets of utensils and cutting boards and to bring along ample supply of moist towelettes for washing hands. A makeshift wash station can be set up using two plastic tubs - one with soapy water and the other with clean rinse water. A spray bottle filled with soapy water also would be easy to pack.


When packing a cooler, use one that is well-insulated and has an adequate ice source. Ice blocks, cubes or refreezable ice packs all work well. Package raw fish, meat or poultry carefully so juices won't leak into the cooler. Also, items to be packed should be well-chilled before being placed in the cooler. Keep the cooler in the shade, and make sure foods are not sitting out in hot temperatures, either before or after cooking, for more than two hours. The two-hour rule is shortened to one hour when the outside temperature is warmer than 85 degrees.

A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled, so it is important to pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to ensure a constant cold temperature.

Remember, microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses also can be present on produce. All fruits and vegetables, including melons, berries and leafy greens, should be washed well under running water in your kitchen before packing in the cooler.

When cooking, be careful to avoid cross-contamination. Different utensils and serving platters should be used for raw and cooked foods. Make sure that everything that touches food is clean. When marinating meats, it is important to keep them refrigerated. Don't use sauce that was used to marinate raw meat or poultry as a basting sauce or dip for cooked meat. Separate a portion of the marinade recipe for use as a sauce or dip; then use the remainder of the recipe on the raw meat.

Avoid partially cooking meats to be finished later on the grill. Precooked foods should be cooked thoroughly, placed immediately in a refrigerator until they are cool and then packed in the cooler. Remember that unwelcome food pathogens multiply quickly between 40 and 140 degrees, the temperature range between the refrigerator and hot serving temperatures.

All utensils, cookware and grills should be cleaned thoroughly after use. To sanitize cutting boards, wash with warm, soapy water, rinse, and then dip in a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach and 1 quart of lukewarm water.

If there are leftovers, quickly put them away in a cooler with ice. If meats, salads or other perishable foods have set out for more than two hours on a cool day or no more than one hour on a hot day, then it's best to follow the saying: "When in doubt, throw it out."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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