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LSU AgCenter Nutritionist Offers Strategies For Safe Picnics

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 cutting boards.

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 illness.

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 grow.

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 165 F.

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 remained cold.

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, at
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