By Katelyn Schobert, Dietitian
The weather is warming up, making it more possible to enjoy time with family and friends outside. A common outdoor activity is going to picnics. Picnics are a great way to get out to enjoy fresh air, nature, and the company of others. However if not properly prepared, picnics can pose a risk for food borne illnesses. This occurs when foods are not kept at the right temperature or are contaminated. Follow the tips below to make sure you and your family stays safe this spring and summer!
- Cooler Safety
Perishable items including mayo, deli meats, raw meats, and cheese should be kept at a temperature less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When packing the cooler, at least ¼ of the cooler should have ice and the rest can be food. Transport the cooler in the back seat of the vehicle where it will be in air conditioning as opposed to the hot trunk. Avoid cross-contamination between fresh items and raw meats by using separate sealed bags. The ice in the food cooler should not be used for beverages in case the juices from the meat leak out of the bag. This would spread odorless harmful bacteria.
- Avoid Cross Contamination
Bring separate utensils for cutting fruits and vegetables and for cutting meats. This bacteria can spread between utensils, cutting boards, plates, or from hands. It is important to wash your hands in between each task when preparing the picnic meal, and if the area does not have running water, make sure to pack hand sanitizer.
- Bring a Food Thermometer
This will ensure meat is cooked to the right temperature to kill all the harmful bacteria. It can also be used to check the temperature of the cold food items to keep them below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The danger zone, or the temperatures where bacteria grow rapidly, is between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. If a food is in the danger zone for too long, bacteria grows.
- When in Doubt, Throw it Out
Any perishable food that has been sitting out for more than two hours should be placed back into the cooler at the proper temperature or thrown out. If the temperature is elevated (above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) perishable food should not sit out for more than 1 hour. At the end of the day, if there is food in the cooler and the ice has all melted then all the food in the cooler should be thrown out.
One solution to preventing any foodborne illness when having a picnic is to bring foods that are not perishable and are already fully cooked. Below is a recipe for mayo-free pasta salad that will not spoil as quickly as traditional salads served at picnics.
Pasta Salad Recipe
– 1 box of rotini pasta
– 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
– 1 cup of grape tomatoes
– 1 yellow bell pepper
– ½ medium-sized red onion
– 1 medium broccoli crown
– ½ cup roasted red pepper Italian dressing
- Boil water in large pot and cook pasta according to box guidelines. Once cooked, rinse, and place in large bowl. Toss in vegetable oil.
- Cut each tomato in half and add to the pasta.
- Core and seed the bell pepper. Dice and add to pasta.
- Remove skin from onion, cut into fourths, then cut into thin slices to add to the pasta.
- Remove the stem from broccoli and cut the tops into small, bite-sized pieces. Add to the pasta.
- Pour the Italian dressing over the vegetables and pasta, stir to combine all the ingredients.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.