Warm weather has arrived! And with higher temperatures comes everyone’s favorite summer tradition – picnics and barbecues. Whether you spend the afternoon in the back yard or hike a mountain to picnic at the top, eating outside is a great way to spend time with family and enjoy nature. Unfortunately, picnics and barbecues can also create the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to grow on your food. Taking some precautions can ensure that your food stays safe!
Cook Meats Thoroughly
Use a food thermometer to make sure your meats are fully cooked. Steaks and other whole pieces of meat should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145ºF. Ground meats, like hamburgers and sausages containing beef or pork, should reach 160ºF. Any poultry product, like chicken breasts, turkey burgers, and sausages containing chicken or turkey, should reach 165ºF. Most hot dogs are pre-cooked and do not need to be checked before serving.
Hold Food at the Right Temperature
Hot foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled fish, and grilled vegetables should be held at 140ºF. You can do this by wrapping the cooked food in foil and storing it next to the grill, or leaving it in an oven that is set to 200ºF. Cold foods, like potato salad, sour cream dip, or mayonnaise, should be kept below 40ºF. If you’re storing these foods in a cooler, make sure to pack it with plenty of ice and leave the cooler in the shade.
Store Leftovers Quickly
Put perishable items like meat, deviled eggs, or potato salad in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking or removing it from the refrigerator. If the outside temperature is above 90º, refrigerate food within one hour. If you’re away from home and unable to store your food in time, you should discard it.
Don’t Cross Contaminate
Cross contamination occurs when bacteria from one food is transferred to another food. To avoid this, never place cooked food on a plate that has held raw meat. You should also serve food with clean utensils, not the ones you used to prepare the raw meat. Finally, keep a separate cooler for perishable and nonperishable foods. This way, raw meat will not drip onto your beverage containers should the packaging leak.
For more tips, visit the USDA Food Safety website.
Picnics and barbecues should be a fun time where nobody gets sick. Following food safety guidelines will ensure that they are!
Amy Sercel is student in the University of Vermont Master of Science in Dietetics program. She is completing her clinical rotations with Nutrition Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center.