This is a great time to cover basics on food safety as the summer picnicking and grilling season begins, according to University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health specialist Dr. Pam Duitsman.
“Whether you are at the lake, picnicking at the park or having friends over for a barbecue, the last thing you want is food poisoning,” Duitsman said. “However, like many folks just wanting to have fun, it could be that you are taking chances. Foodborne bacteria can multiply rapidly in summer temperatures.”
According to Duitsman, there are several important tips worth knowing and following to protect yourself and loved ones.
For starters, keep your food safe by packing a clean cooler with several inches of ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacteria from growing.
“Consider packing meat, poultry, and seafood while still frozen so that they stay colder longer,” Duitsman said. “However, if you are packing raw meat in a cooler, use a separate cooler to avoid juices from the meat cross-contaminating your ready-to-eat foods like veggies, fruits, and sandwiches.”
Third, keep coolers closed as much as possible to keep the contents cold longer. One option is to pack beverages in a separate cooler from food, so frequent openings of the cooler will not expose the food to warm outdoor temperatures.
“When traveling, place coolers in the passenger compartment of your car, not in the trunk – which will much warmer,” Duitsman said. “Moreover, keep coolers out of the sun.”
Fifth, Duitsman said not to leave food out since it can spoil quickly at high temperatures. For example, at 90 degrees or above, food should not sit out for over one hour.
“Even at room temperature (70 degrees), food should not sit out for more than two hours,” Duitsman said. “Once the food is cooked, it should be kept hot at or above 140 degrees. If you have doubts that the food has been held at the proper temperature, throw it out.”
Sixth, wash hands before handling food even when in outdoor situations.
“If you do not have access to running water, simply use a water jug, soap, and paper towels. Carry moist disposable towelettes when no water is available,” Duitsman said.
Duitsman said that when grilling, there are some additional steps worth taking to make sure food is kept safe.
For example, when marinating raw meat, always keep the food in the refrigerator.
“If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on cooked food, reserve some of the marinade before adding it to the raw meat,” Duitsman said. “Once added, it will not be safe to use.”
Second, if you plan to cook meat partially before grilling, be sure to grill or cook the food immediately so that it stays hot. It is also best to cook food thoroughly and use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures.
Finally, keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.
“Don’t reuse platters or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood,” Duitsman said. “These will most likely be contaminated from bacteria that was on the raw food and food juices. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.”
An “online exclusive” is an article or story that does not run in the print edition of the Houston Herald. Typically 2-3 are posted online every Wednesday morning. It is another feature for users who purchase full web access from the Herald.