|Summer marks the beginning of picnic season
and the challenge of food safety, according to
LSU AgCenter nutritionist
Dr. Beth Reames.
Cross-contamination is a particular problem. It occurs when harmful
microorganisms from raw meat and poultry are transferred to cooked and
other ready-to-eat foods from improperly cleaned hands, utensils and
Reames offers several picnicking tips in two critical food safety areas.
Keep everything clean. Find out if there's a source of potable (safe
drinking) water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation
and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and
paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Cross-contamination during
preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne
Always wash your hands before and after handling food, and donít use the
same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Soap and
water are essential to cleanliness, so if you are going somewhere that will
not have potable water, bring it with you. Even disposable wipes will do.
Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving
the safely cooked food.
Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. "Itís essential to keep hot food hot
and cold food cold on the way to, and throughout, the meal," Reames
stresses, noting that holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime
cause of foodborne illness. Already-high summertime temperatures can spike
higher in direct sunlight on the beach or in a boat. The nutritionist says
food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than two
hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 F).
Most bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40 F or above 140
F. The temperature range in between is known as the "danger zone." Bacteria
multiply rapidly at these temperatures and can reach dangerous levels. Raw
meat and poultry products may contain bacteria that cause foodborne
illness. They must be cooked to destroy these bacteria and held at
temperatures that are either too hot or too cold for these bacteria to
If bringing hot take-out food such as fried chicken or barbecue, eat it
within two hours of purchase. Or, plan ahead and chill the food in your
refrigerator before packing it into an insulated cooler. In addition to a
grill and fuel for cooking food, remember to pack a food thermometer to
check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When
reheating food at the outing, be sure it reaches an internal temperature of
Carry cold perishable food like hamburger patties, hotdogs, luncheon meats
and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with plenty of ice or frozen gel
packs. Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent juices
from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. Perishable cooked foods such as
meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads must be kept cold, too.
Store food in the cooler except for brief times when serving. Cook only the
amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping
leftovers at a safe temperature. Discard any leftovers that have not
For additional information about keeping food safe to eat, contact the
Extension agent in your parish. For information on related family and
consumer topics, link to the FCS Web site from the LSU AgCenter homepage,