Monday, June 15, 2009


Safe food handling a must for summer picnics and barbecues

The beginning of summer and the picnic/grilling season is upon us. The warm weather offers lots of opportunities for outdoor fun for families and friends, but these events also present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive.

Nothing ruins a vacation or weekend at the beach more than a case of salmonella. To protect your family and friends, safe food handling is a must when eating and cooking outdoors.

Keep your food safe from the beginning and for most of us that starts at the grocery store. When shopping, buy the cold foods like meat, poultry or seafood last, right before checkout.

Separate it in the cart from the produce to avoid the juices from dripping on the lettuce, thus preventing cross contamination. When possible put the meat/seafood/poultry into plastic bags. Don’t make any side trips on the way home and it’s a good idea to keep a cooler in the car for perishables, especially when it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once home, put the perishables in the fridge immediately. Freeze poultry and ground beef if it’s not to be used in 1-2 days.

You’re headed to the park or beach for that picnic and how you transport your food is critical in preventing illness. With this in mind, wash your cooler first with a bleach/water combination or an anti-bacterial cleanser.

Keep cold foods cold. Cold foods should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Consider transporting the meat while still frozen so that it stays colder longer.

Transport beverages separately from the perishable foods. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish drinks, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to the warmer air temperature.

Keep coolers closed. Limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as possible (always a challenge when kids are around!).

Don’t cross contaminate. Keep the raw meats securely wrapped and if possible separate from the prepared/cooked foods, fruits and vegetables.

Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before packing - including those with skins and rinds (ie. watermelon and oranges).

Safe cooking/grilling begins with clean hands and a clean working surface. If running water is not available simply use a water jug and soap. Consider anti-bacterial hand wipes or liquid hand sanitizer as an alternative (something every mom has in her purse, diaper bag or car).

When preparing your meats for grilling start with the following basics:

Marinate safely. Marinate foods in the fridge, not counter or outdoors. If you plan to use the marinade as a sauce, reserve a portion before the meat has been added. Never reuse marinade.

Cook immediately after ‘partial cooking’.

Cook food thoroughly. A food thermometer is recommended to ensure doneness. Guidelines are available online for everything from steak to seafood.

Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just way from the coals or if at home, put it into a covered dish in the oven and set the oven temperature to 175 degrees Fahrenheit to stay warm until serving time.

Don’t reuse platters or utensils. Reusing platters or utensils that previously held raw meat allows bacteria from the raw food to spread to the cooked food. Instead have a clean platter and utensils ready.

When it comes time to serve the food, keeping it at proper temperatures – indoor and out - is critical to prevent foodborne bacteria. The key is to never let your food remain in the danger zone – between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Any foods left out for more than 2 hours should be tossed, 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

As always, when in doubt, throw it out!

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. E-mail Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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