Warmer weather means more family picnics, camping and outdoor barbecues. It also means there’s a greater risk for food contamination and poisoning.
According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 40 million Americans suffer food poisoning each year, and most foodborne infections are undiagnosed and unreported.
Planning ahead and careful attention to just a few details can help prevent many of those illnesses.
“The four steps to food safety are clean, separate, cook and chill,” said Betty English, Family and Consumer Science agent with the Augusta-Richmond County UGA Cooperative Extension office. “Whether you are at a campsite, grilling on the patio or in your own kitchen, these four steps are essential in keeping your food safe.”
English explains that when preparing for a picnic, be mindful of how much food is needed and take just that amount. Any extra might end up becoming spoilage. It’s best to select items such as peanut butter, bread, crackers and dried meats that don’t need refrigeration.
An insulated cooler should be used to transport perishable foods and should include ice, frozen gel packs or even frozen cans or drink boxes that will thaw by serving time. A separate cooler should be used for ice for drinks, and another for any raw meats in order to prevent cross-contamination.
“Make sure you understand that ice is a food and can be contaminated,” said English. “You should use separate coolers for cold storage of food and drinks.”
Foods that are to be grilled should be kept cold until the grill is hot, and need to be cooked thoroughly. Investing in a food thermometer is recommended. Clean plates should be used for serving and any unused marinade should be discarded.
With temperatures rising, it’s important to note that no food should be left sitting out for longer than an hour in temperatures of 85 degrees or more. On hot days, perishable foods – including mayonnaise, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, cut fruits and meats – should be thrown out if they’re out for longer than an hour.
By following these steps, the next picnic or camping trip will be one to remember for the fun and not the illnesses incurred.