Extension@YourService ~ Keep Summer Picnic Foods Safe

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump
Source: OSU Extension

Source: OSU Extension

Picnics are a great chance to bring family and friends together. However, the excitement of one can cause distraction from making sure that food being served is safe. It is very critical to keep food safety in mind while packing, storing, and preparing all of the delicious summer foods for a picnic. This ensures that family and friends do not become sick from foodborne illnesses. Those with lower immune systems such as young children, older adults, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are at greatest risk of suffering serious health issues related to food borne illnesses.

The best way to start preparing for a picnic is to make a list of the foods and other items you might need such as: napkins, plates, and utensils. One item that is sometimes left off of this list is hand sanitizer and/or soap and water. Not all picnic areas have an area to wash hands prior to eating, so it is important to be equipped with these items. Everyone in the group should wash their hands before preparing, serving, and eating the food. This is a huge step in helping to prevent the spread of bacteria between individuals. Another item that should not be forgotten is a thermometer to check proper cooking temperatures of all meat, poultry, or fish as it is grilled.

If salads or premade dishes are on your list, make sure that you keep them at the proper temperature (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) at all times. This means storing them in the refrigerator after they are made and then transferring them into a cooler with ice or icepacks right before traveling to the picnic destination. Try to keep the cooler closed until you are ready to serve or prepare the foods. Any food that is left out of the cooler for longer than an hour on a 90 degree Fahrenheit day should be discarded because of the risk of it causing food borne illness. Fruits or vegetables that will be cut/prepared at the picnic location should be washed and dried prior to the trip. Make sure to store them in a clean container or bag.

It is also important to prevent cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods. If marinating meats ahead of time, do so in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf so that the juice cannot drip onto any of the other items. Do not reuse the marinade. These foods should be stored in a cooler, separate from the ready-to-eat foods, at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When cooking the food, make sure to not reuse the plate that held to raw or uncooked items unless it is sanitized before the cooked items are placed on it; not following this precaution can expose ready-to-eat food to harmful bacteria that were killed off in the cooking process. Also remember to make sure that different utensils are used to handle products before and after cooking. Below is a guide to checking the temperature of grilled items to make sure that they are safe to eat:

Steaks and roasts  145°F
Fish 145°F
Pork 145°F
Ground beef 160°F
Egg dishes 160°F
Chicken breasts 165°F
Whole poultry 165°F

Ready-to-eat hot items should be thrown away if they sit out at 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for longer than one hour. Temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below 140 degrees Fahrenheit are dangerous because this is when food borne illness can multiply most rapidly. Visit the FDA Consumer Resources Webpage for more information on food safety.

By practicing safe food handling procedures at all picnics, you are able to relax and be confident in the food you are serving to yourself and others.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alyssa Anderson, MS, RDN, LDN at 910-997-8255.