Simple ways to prevent picnic poisoning

It doesn’t get much better than eating food outdoors on a beautiful summer day whether at a picnic or backyard barbeque.  It’s a pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon or evening unless someone gets sick from picnic or food poisoning.

Food poisoning is an unwelcomed and unpleasant incidence sending 300,000 people to the hospital each year with the occurrence hitting its highest peak during the summer months. Symptoms of food poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days. 

None of us want to experience picnic poisoning and with several simple tips, we don’t have to.  Before you pack your picnic basket or fire up the grill, remember smart food handling can prevent a lot of problems.

Keep everything clean

Starting with your hands, wash them before and after cooking.  After handling meat wash your hands before touching anything else to avoid cross contamination.   Pack moist towelettes, anti-bacterial hand wipes, or hand soap to clean your hands and all surfaces often.  All surfaces you plan to cook on or set food on need to be thoroughly scrubbed along with all utensils used.  Fresh fruits and veggies need to be washed to remove any contaminants they may be carrying.

Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods

All raw meat needs to be keep separated from all other food and drinks in tightly-sealed packages.  Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator overnight- do not thaw on the kitchen counter as this gives bacteria time to grow. 

Avoid using the same plate to serve your burgers or steaks that you used to hold the raw meat before they were cooked. This can cause cross-contamination leading to food poisoning.  This same advice also applies to utensils – don’t use the same spatula to serve cooked meat that you used to flip the raw meat with. 

Bring along a cooler

A well-insulated cooler is a must to avoid picnic poisoning.  Any and all perishable foods must be packed in a cooler with lots of ice.  If driving to a location to have a picnic or cookout, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned vehicle and not the trunk.  Keep the cooler lid closed most of the time to keep contents cold longer.  Thoroughly clean with hot soapy water making sure the interior is spotless both before and after each use.

Cook to a proper temperature

One of the most effective ways to prevent food poisoning is to cook meat to a high enough temperature to kill any possible bacteria it may contain.  Hamburgers should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken breasts to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bring along a food thermometer to help check this.

Put perishable food away after one hour outdoors

If the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher, perishable food (meat, mayonnaise, and any dairy) needs to go back into the cooler after one hour before they get too warm allowing any bacterial contamination the chance to start growing.  Once you get home, store perishables promptly back in the refrigerator. 

Both hot and cold foods should not sit out more than an hour or two at the most.  If food is left out longer than that, it is advisable to throw it away to be on the safe side.