End of Summer Safe Eating

picnic on the grass

The countdown to fall may have arrived, but there is still plenty of time left to enjoy eating, cooking and playing outside. Here are some simple tips and strategies for handling and storing food so the fun can keep going on both before and after your picnic, barbecue, or camping trip.

Cool it!

You have likely heard it by now, but it is very important to keep cold foods cold (and hot foods hot) in order to prevent food poisoning. This really applies to perishable foods such as meats, chicken, cheese, milk products, eggs, and salads made from them. Keep them in a cooler on ample ice (use freezer gel packs, on top of the food) until serving or cooking time. Definitely avoid putting hot foods or hot leftovers into the cooler with the cold foods because it will increase the temperature in the cooler and put everything into the “danger zone”— the temperature range between 40°- 140° degrees, at which bacteria that is naturally present in some foods begin to multiply rapidly. Cold foods should stay below 40° degrees and hot foods above 140° degrees. To help keep cold foods cold longer, keep your beverages in a separate cooler (this will result in less frequent opening of the cooler) and also make it easier to find things.

Separate is best

Avoiding cross contamination is crucial for food safety. Bacteria can spread quickly and easily when foods and food juices mix. You’ve started with separate coolers for beverages and cold foods. Also, make sure to keep all raw meats wrapped completely (or put in doubled-up, sealable plastic food storage bags so they can’t drip on other foods). You can keep fruit or vegetables in plastic zip-top bags as well. Not only does this prevent them from coming in contact with any raw meats, but keeps them safe from bruising and falling into the melting ice in the bottom of your cooler. Consider using plastic storage containers for small items like dips, salsa, pickles etc.

Finally, think through the cooking and serving process to avoid having raw meats and their juices touch the final, cooked foods. This means having a separate platter for the cooked meats, separate serving utensils for raw and cooked foods (including tongs and forks used for grilling) and bringing plenty of plastic wrap or clean food storage bags for leftovers (do NOT use the same bags you used to bring the raw meat and chicken).

Keep leftovers safe

If you have leftover food at the picnic or BBQ, the worst thing you can do is let potentially dangerous foods (meats, milk, cheese, eggs etc) sit out after the meal for grazing throughout the day. In fact, if the weather is hot (above 90°—not that likely for Maine), you only have an hour that the food can safety be outside of the 40°-140 range (2 hours if the outside temp is lower). You can help hot foods stay hot by wrapping them tightly and putting them in their own insulated container when bringing them to the picnic and afterward, wrap all leftovers and put them into the cooler with the ice and gel packs so you can quickly cool down the hot food, taking it out of the danger zone.

There are many web sites to help you learn even more about this topic. One is the FDA’s site for summer food safety. Enjoy the last weeks of summer eating, and keep everyone happy with delicious, healthy food that is safe to eat!

Do you have a favorite healthy picnic recipe? Share it with Catching Health.

Note from Diane: This post was written by Eileen Molloy M.S, RD/ LD, C.D.E., courtesy of the Maine Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. I am grateful for their writing and nutrition expertise.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.