by Johanna Hicks
Summer Picnics & Foodborne Illness – Not a Good Combo!
Ahhh, summertime! Time for swimming, traveling, sleeping late, vacation, picnicking, summer camps, Vacation Bible School, and so much more. However, the extreme Texas summers can be brutal, especially when it comes to keeping picnic foods safe.
Foodborne bacteria can multiply quickly in hot temperatures. Rebecca Dittmar, a colleague of mine who serves as a Specialist in Food Protection Management with Texas A&M, has tips on how to keep a summer picnic safe. If you’re serving fresh fruits or vegetables, make sure to rinse them thoroughly before packing them and putting them in a cooler. Scrub vegetables with a clean brush and dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or with paper towels. Always keep cold foods cold by putting them into a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
If you have meat, poultry or seafood that’s already frozen, you can put it in the cooler to ensure it stays cold longer. Try to keep coolers in the interior of your vehicle instead of the trunk, and take only however much food you plan to eat that day. Perishable foods such as hot dogs, burgers, poultry, deviled eggs and macaroni or potato salad also should be kept in a well-insulated cooler at 40 degrees or below. Keeping foods in separate coolers can help avoid cross-contamination. Raw meat, poultry or seafood should be tightly wrapped or stored in a sealed bag or container, and kept in a different cooler than other foods. Make sure these items are securely wrapped in such a way that their juices don’t get into and possibly contaminate prepared foods or foods that are to be eaten raw, such as carrot or celery sticks or fresh fruits.
Thawing meat on the counter overnight for the day’s picnicking isn’t safe. Instead it should be thawed in the refrigerator or cooked from its frozen state. We also recommend people don’t partially cook meat or poultry ahead of time, as that too can be risky. Partially cooking food ahead of time may allow bacteria to survive and multiply to the point where further cooking might not be able to kill them. The safest way to go is to cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature at the picnic site.
Having clean hands is vital to helping prevent foodborne illness, so take a jug of water, soap and paper towels if you are unsure whether running water will be available at the picnic destination. In a pinch, you can use an antibacterial hand sanitizer or disposable moist towelettes to clean your hands. Be sure to clean your hands before and after touching raw meat, poultry or seafood. Make sure food preparation surfaces, cutting boards, grilling utensils and serving platters are washed and sanitized prior to use. If you’ve placed raw meat or fish on a platter before grilling, don’t use that same plate to serve the cooked food unless it has first been cleaned with hot, soapy water.
Once the coolers are placed where needed, keep them closed as much as possible to keep the contents cooler for a longer period of time. Once it is served, cold food should not sit out for any longer than two hours, or just one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. And the saying, “When in doubt, throw it out,” applies here!
Poultry should be cooked to a 165 degree internal temperature. Hot dogs should be cooked to a 165 degree internal temperature as well, and hamburgers to 160 degrees. Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts should be cooked to at least a 145 degree internal temperature. Cooked foods should be allowed to “rest” for three minutes before serving.
If you follow these food safety guidelines for a picnic, there’s a good chance you won’t be bothered by foodborne illness. A pleasant activity like a picnic should never have to end badly.
Twogether in Texas Marriage Education Workshop
I’ve already received inquiries about the next marriage education workshop and two couples are signed up. We have plenty of room for more! Here are the details:
- When: Saturday, August 25
- Where: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office, Sulphur Springs
- Time: 8:30 a.m. to approximately 3:30 p.m.
- Lunch and refreshments will be provided
- Cost: Free, but both individuals must attend
Topics to be covered are: marriage expectations, communication, conflict resolution, money management, and goals & dreams. A nice benefit to attending the workshop (other than the fantastic information), is that engaged couples will receive a certificate to save $60 upon applying for a marriage license. To sign up, please call 903-885-3443 so adequate lunch and material preparations can be made.
What man can imagine, he may one day achieve – Nancy Hale