With summer in full swing, many people are enjoying picnics and barbecues as they look forward to tasty food along with outdoor fun with family and friends.
At the same time, it’s important to know that warm weather fun under the sun may result in foodborne bacteria that can quickly turn a family picnic or barbecue into avoidable stomach ailments for a simple reason: as food heats up in warm temperatures, bacteria will multiply rapidly.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to protect ourselves and our loved ones from foodborne illness during warm-weather months,” said Roohe Ahmed, a registered dietitian/nutritionist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “It’s critically important to handle your food safely when eating outdoors.”
Pack and Transport Food Safely
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you keep your food safe – from the refrigerator/freezer to the picnic table. It offers the following recommendation to protect your health:
- Keep cold food cold. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Store cold food at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Pack meat, poultry, and seafood while frozen so that they stay colder longer.
- Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler with perishable foods in another. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures.
- Keep coolers closed: once at the picnic site, limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as you can. This helps to keep the contents cold longer.
- Don’t cross-contaminate. Be sure to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
- Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler — including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Wipe fruits and vegetables dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed” need not be washed.
“If you follow these tips, you’re more likely to prevent illness caused by foodborne bacteria,” said Roohe, who works at Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park. “It’s important for all of us to make sure that when eating or grilling outdoors, applying food safety precautions will help you avoid getting sick and spoiling enjoyment with family and friends.”
Safe Grilling Tips
According to the FDA, grilling and picnicking often go hand-in-hand. And just as with cooking indoors, follow important guidelines to ensure that your grilled food reaches the table safely.
The FDA recommends the following:
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator — never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade.
- Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack. This keeps it hot but prevents overcooking.
- Don’t reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at the grill-side to serve your food.
- Check for foreign objects in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle brush, make sure that no detached bristles have made their way into grilled food.
“As the weather gets warmer, more and more people will enjoy eating outdoors,” Roohe said. “The secret is to make sure you don’t compromise food safety, as that can quickly spoil your fun.”