When it comes to staying safe during summer picnics, it’s not just sunscreen and water wings that are needed. As the temperature rises, so should your awareness to food safety.
Carin Booth, family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Hall County, said to keep from consuming unsafe foods this summer, follow four key categories: clean, separate, cook and chill.
Bring items to clean surface areas for a picnic.
Besides wiping down a picnic table, clean utensils if using them to cook different foods.
It’s also important to wash hands thoroughly during the food preparation process.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before handling food. It also recommends washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.
If there’s no access to running water at the picnic site, use a water jug, soap and paper towels or moist disposable towelettes to wash hands.
The FDA recommends washing cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item. Use paper towels to clean picnic surfaces, and if cloth towels are used, launder them often in the hot cycle.
Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separated and use different cutting boards for each so as not to cross-contaminate.
According to the FDA, washing cutting boards and utensils in hot soapy water is also an acceptable way to prevent the spread of bacteria.
One such bacteria is Staphylococcal, which causes food poisoning. Booth said about 25 percent of healthy people have staph bacteria on their skin, hair or in their nose.
Bacteria grows quickly in warm, wet environments, she said. Staph bacteria can multiply quickly and produce toxins.
If you’re packing food that’s already cooked, allow time for the food to cool before it’s put in the cooler. If it’s still hot, it will heat the other cooler contents, Booth said.
Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or lower and hot foods at 140 or higher.
“Lots of people will do a smell or color check on whether the food is done,” Booth said. “That’s not always the best indicator. Make sure you use a food thermometer to make sure it’s done.”
According to the FDA, chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees, beef and pork to 160 degrees and leftovers heated to 165 degrees.
Booth recommends packing two separate coolers.
“One with foods that are not cooked if you’re going to do some barbecuing and one with foods that are prepared,” Booth said.
Another idea is to pack drinks in one cooler and food in another.
“That way people are not constantly opening a food cooler to remove drinks,” Booth said. “That keeps the food cooler cool.”
When packing coolers, Booth said to move the food directly from the refrigerator or freezer to the coolers. Don’t leave it sitting out before you pack it.
“One big thing, we see a lot of people pack with ice but actually the gel packs are better quality,” Booth said. “They warm slowly when you take them out of the freezer. They’ll give you a colder temperature longer than ice.”
If you don’t have the option of two separate coolers, Booth said to wrap raw foods and place them in the bottom of the cooler. Then put a barrier between raw food and cooked food.
Coolers should be kept in the shade and not stored in the trunk of a car or direct sunlight.
The FDA recommends refrigerating or freezing meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and other perishables within two hours of cooking or purchasing and refrigerating in one hour if the temperature outside is above 90 degrees.