Must-Read Summer Food Safety Tips for Cookouts, Picnics and More

Don't let spoiled food spoil your holiday picnic or BBQ this Memorial Day weekend!

Memorial Day is almost here, which means summer picnic and barbeque season has arrived! So go ahead, pack a basket filled with your favorite goodies or head to the neighborhood potluck. What you want to leave behind are food-borne bacteria that multiply and grow best in warm temperatures, leaving you a nasty case of the "summer bug" (symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea). Keep food-borne pests from interfering with your summer plans by following these summer-specific food safety tips:

Start Clean and Stay Clean

  • Clean preparation is essential. Wash hands and work areas; be sure all utensils are clean before preparing food.
  • Wash hands before eating. Bring along disposable moist towelettes or wash cloths in resealable bags if there's no running water at your destination.

Keep Perishable Food Cold

  • Perishable foods, like meat, poultry, eggs and fish, should be kept below 40 degrees, so plan to keep them on enough ice in your insulated cooler to keep that temperature for the duration of your trip. (A block of ice keeps longer than ice cubes.)
  • Foods to be cooked ahead should be prepared in plenty of time to cool thoroughly in the refrigerator, before they're packed in the cooler.
  • Start with cold or frozen food -- pack directly from the fridge to the cooler.
  • Pack foods in reverse order of how you'll eat them.
  • A full cooler stays cold longer than one that's only partially filled. Fill remaining space with more ice or with fruit and nonperishable foods.
  • Don't put the cooler in the trunk; carry it inside the air-conditioned car.

Follow The Two-Hour Rule

  • Perishable food shouldn't be out for more than two hours, and no more than one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. Food left out beyond that time isn't safe to eat and should be discarded.
  • Place leftover grilled foods in the cooler right after grilling or serving. Any left outside for more than an hour should be discarded.
  • If you have leftovers, put perishable foods back in the cooler right after eating, don't leave them out, even under the shade.
  • If there's still ice in the cooler when you get home, and the food did not sit out for more than one hour, the food is okay to save.

At the Beach...

  • Keep your perishables in a separate cooler from the drinks, since the drinks cooler is opened more often.
  • Keep the cooler out of the sun. Put it under your beach umbrella, partially bury it in the sand, or cover it with a blanket for further insulation.

On the Trail...

  • For weekend trips, choose foods that don't require refrigeration. Pasta, instant rice, peanut butter and jelly, nuts, dried fruit, dried meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried soups, breads and crackers, powdered milk and fruit drinks, dehydrated foods, etc.
  • Always assume that lake, pond, stream and river waters are not safe to drink. Buy purification tablets or filtering equipment from camping supply stores and learn how to use them effectively. Bring along some bottled water.
  • Cleanliness is paramount. Bring soap for hand washing and dishwashing, or use disposable wipes to clean your hands. Wash dishes immediately, before bacteria has a chance to grow on your plates and utensils.
  • Pack carefully to use fresh foods for meals the first day. Cold or frozen, prepared foods can be packed with a cold source. Freeze water in a plastic jug and wrap it with the foods in a plastic bag, then stuff the bag inside a sleeping bag or jacket inside your backpack. This will keep the food cold while you hike.
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