Picnic, Barbecue & Cookout Food Safety Tips

Picnic, Barbecue & Cookout Food Safety Tips

by Cheri Sicard

It's not always possible to see, taste or smell dangerous bacteria that may cause illness if food is mishandled. Bacteria grow and multiply rapidly in the danger zone between 40° F and 140° F. When transporting food and cooking out, it's especially important to pay attention to matters of food safety and keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

Food transported without an ice source or left out in the sun at a picnic won't stay safe for long. Guests who eat mishandled food may get what's known as the "Summer Bug," the flu-like symptoms caused by mild food poisoning or even worse. Before having a picnic, be sure to prepare and store food safely, then pack it properly for traveling.

Picnic, Barbecue & Cookout Food Safety Tips

Try to plan just the right amount of foods to take. That way, you won't have to worry about the storage or safety of leftovers.

If there are leftovers, throw them out unless you can safely keep them chilled until you get home. If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, the leftovers should be okay to eat. When in doubt, throw it out! I hate to be wasteful, but when it comes to food poisoning, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Any leftovers left outside for more than an hour should be discarded. Clean preparation is essential. Wash hands and work areas; be sure all utensils are clean before preparing food.

Foods that are cooked ahead need to be completed in plenty of time to chill thoroughly in the refrigerator before being packed (unless, of course you are taking measures to transport and serve hot food). Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40°F or colder. Pack food from the refrigerator right into the cooler. Pack foods in the cooler in the order opposite of how you'll be using them. In other words, pack the food you'll need last at the bottom and so on.

A cooler chest can also be used to keep hot food hot. Line the cooler with a heavy kitchen towel for extra insulation and place weel wrapped hot foods inside. It's amazing how long the foods will stay not only warm, but hot. Try to use a cooler that is just the right size to pack fairly tightly with hot food so less heat escapes.

Thermos bottles can keep stews or hot drinks at the right temperature for hours. If foods are poured boiling hot into sterilized bottles, there shouldn't be a problem as long as they are still hot when it comes time to eat.

If you're planning on take-out foods such as fried chicken or barbecued beef, eat them within two hours of pick-up or buy ahead of time and chill completely before packing the foods into the cooler. Don't pack coolers in the trunk, carry them inside the air-conditioned car.

As much as possible, keep coolers in the shade while at the picnic. Keep cooler lids closed and avoid unnecessary openings. It's a good idea to use a separate cooler for drinks, so the one containing perishable food won't be constantly opened and closed. Replenish the ice if it melts.

When preparing chicken, egg, or cold meat salads, or anything other recipes featuring mayonnaise, refrigerate it as soon as possible, and keep cold right up until packing time. Sometimes, I will even give these types of items an extra shot of cold by placing in them in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes before packing. This is just to insure they are extra cold, do not freeze mayonnaise item as it tends to separate. When preparing dishes like chicken or cooked meat salads, use chilled ingredients. In other words, make sure your cooked chicken has been cooked and chilled before it gets mixed with other salad ingredients. When handling raw meat, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit on the grill at that time.

The USDA recommends that you don't eat raw or undercooked ground beef, since harmful bacteria could be present. To be sure bacteria are destroyed, cook hamburgers and ribs to 160 degrees F (medium doneness) or until the center is no longer pink and the juices are clear. Cook ground poultry to 165°F and poultry parts to 180°F.

Do not partially grill meat to use later. Once you begin cooking meat by any method, cook until completely done to assure that bacteria are destroyed. Reheat precooked meats until steaming hot.

When taking foods off the grill, put them on a clean plate, not the same platter that held raw meat.

Never reuse marinades that have come in contact with raw meat, chicken or fish, and don't put the cooked food back into an unwashed container or dish that contained the marinade.

Reader Carolyn Kashat, Garden City, Michigan says, "When I have a big barbecue party, I fill up a hard plastic childs pool with ice, then set the food inside this."

To clean foods that have burnt on a barbecue grill, enclose them in a large plastic garbage bag. Mix 1 cup baking soda with 1/2 cup ammonia, pour over the grills, close the bag and let sit overnight. The burnt on pieces will have loosened making the grills easy to clean.

Control the flames on a barbecue grill by having a pint spray bottle of water mixed with 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Clean coolers with a water and baking solution to eliminate odors.

About the author

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com, a food and cooking site which specializes in Holidays and Entertaining. Stop by for some recipes or to sign up for on of their seven free cooking newsletters.


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