Summer is upon us, and with the warm weather and sunshine comes many opportunities for a picnic with family and friends. Whether you’re eating in the backyard, at a park, or at the beach, it is so important to pay attention to food safety. More foodborne illnesses occur during picnic season than any other time. Keep illness-causing bacteria at bay with these picnic do’s & don’ts.
Preparing and Packing Picnic Foods
Preparing and packing picnic food properly is one of most important steps to keep food safe and have an easier picnic experience. Wash all fresh produce thoroughly at home. Peel and slice any fruits and veggies ahead of time so that these items are ready to serve when it is time. Package produce in resealable containers that fit easily into your cooler, even though fresh fruits and veggies that are normally stored at room temperature do not need to be kept as cold as other foods.
If you are planning to grill meats when you reach your destination, package raw meats in a tightly sealed container. If meats require any prep work, such as slicing or making burger patties, do so before you leave home. Meats can be transported partially frozen, but all meats should be placed on ice in the cooler until ready to use. For added food safety, place meat containers in a disposable plastic grocery bag to ensure limited contact with other foods. This bag will be useful for holding trash during picnic clean up. Package ready-to-eat meats separately from meats that require cooking, as to not cross contaminate.
Place salads and other side dishes in resealable containers as well. These items will need to be kept on ice before and after serving, especially if you choose items that include mayo.
Store ALL cold foods at 40 degrees or below to prevent growth of illness-causing bacteria.
When transporting foods, such as chips, pretzels, bread, crackers and other dry items, they do not need to take up valuable cooler space. If possible, portion some of these items into individual snack bags. This makes for easy serving and less hands (that may not be clean) to potentially contaminate a large container.
Grilling Safety Tips
Be sure to follow the same safe grilling habits you would at home while enjoying a picnic at the park or beach. In addition to transporting meats properly, be sure to keep these important guidelines in mind.
- Make sure meats are cooked immediately after removing from cooler. Preheat the grill and make sure everything is ready before removing the meat from the cooler.
- Make sure meats are cooked thoroughly. Bring a meat thermometer to check that meats reach appropriate internal temperatures before serving.
- Using a dual temperature zone on the grill, keep ready to serve foods hot until they will be consumed.
- Never allow cooked, ready-to-serve meats to come into contact with utensils, platters or plates that were used for raw meats. Keep a clean platter and utensils near the grill for serving.
Serving and Storing Picnic Foods
Make sure cold foods are kept cold and warm foods stay warm. Cold salads and side dishes can be kept cold for serving by placing bowls into a larger bowl filled with ice. When mealtime is over, replace lids and return these items to the cooler at once. If your meal requires condiments like ketchup or mayonnaise, consider serving these items on ice as well. If cold foods remain out of the cooler for more than 2 hours (1 hour if it is 90 degrees or warmer), they should be discarded rather than returned to the cooler.
For hot foods, wrap them foil and store in an insulated container once they’ve been removed from the grill or place in cooler if mealtime is over. Like cold foods, also discard any warm items that have sat out more than 2 hours.
Other Tips & Tricks
Make sure hands are clean anytime they come into contact with food. Use soap and hot water whenever possible, or sanitizing wipes if your picnic site does not have running hot water.
Avoid mayo-based dressings in salads and side dishes. Opt for pasta salads with oil and vinegar-based dressings instead. Consider substituting mashed and seasoned avocado mixed with lemon juice where mayo is called for, or try it on sandwiches.
Use a fabric tote with several pouches for transporting plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins. When packing these items, include a package of sanitizing wipes, several disposable plastic shopping bags, and a hand towel or washcloth. The plastic shopping bags are great for placing dirty dishes in for transporting home as well as for collecting trash at the picnic site.
What steps do you take to keep your picnics safe during the summer? Let ForRent.com know!