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Drew: Food Safety Tips for Picnics and Tailgating

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

Labor Day is the holiday which marks the end of summer. Many citizens use this holiday to get in a little more summer fun with outings that involve eating food outside. Picnics are one of the most popular and historical ways of outdoor eating.

This tradition dates back for hundreds of years. Today we have many modern items to help protect and prevent foodborne bacteria whether the food is hot or cold. Even with these modern items there are some safety practices which must be followed consistently and carefully, especially during hot summer months. It has been reported that one in six Americans unfortunately gets sick annually from foodborne pathogens.

  • The number one safety tip begins with the washing of your hands. A majority of all foodborne illnesses can be prevented with this simple, yet critical step. You should wash your hands while packing your food especially after handling raw meats, while cooking and serving your food at the picnic site. Bring hand sanitary and/or wipes if your site does not have running water. Make sure you clean your entire hand which includes between your fingers and in/around your fingernails.
  • You should also sanitize your cooler and wash all reusable bags/containers before packing your food. Separate your hot and cold food when packing. You want to take all safety measures from the beginning process of packing to eating so cross-contamination can be prevented.
  • It’s important to keep your cold food cold. Therefore, place all your cold food in a container with the necessary amount of ice or frozen gel packs. Most people pack the cooler carefully and use two-thirds of the cooler for food and the other one-third for ice or frozen gels. Your food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meats, poultry and seafood can be packed while still frozen so they can stay cold longer especially in hot temperatures.
  • Pack a thermometer. Check it frequently throughout the picnic to ensure it doesn’t get above 40 degrees.
  • Keep your raw meat, poultry and seafood wrapped securely. This helps prevent their juices from dripping into the cooler which then becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. It also helps protects prepared/cooked foods or foods eaten raw like vegetables and/or fruits from becoming contaminated.

Safe handling of food when eating outside is critical, so Keeping an Eye on Safety during hot temperatures when bacteria can grow quickly, is essential.