Planning the perfect alfresco meal? Before you pack your car and head off to the beach or park this summer, take a moment to make sure you’re up to speed on food safety. Rule Number 1: To make sure everyone stays healthy, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
Pack for success
Make a list before you go of everything, in addition to the food, that you’ll need, from grilling equipment to plates and utensils. Don’t forget to take moist disposable hand towelettes to clean your hands (and your kids’ hands) before handling the food. Add a water jug, soap, and paper towels if you won’t have access to running water at the picnic site. Don’t forget matches to light the grill!
Wrap it up
Before you leave home, wrap hot dishes and place them in an insulated container until ready to serve. Place cold foods in a cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. (Since picnickers tend to open the cooler often to replenish their drinks, you may want to take two coolers so you can keep one for drinks and another for perishable food.) Remind your companions to keep the coolers closed so that the contents will stay chilled longer.
Handle meat with care
Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be wrapped securely so their juices won’t contaminate other foods in the cooler. Take along separate platters and utensils for the cooked meat so you never re-use the ones that held the raw meat. If you want to marinate food before cooking it, do so at home in the refrigerator. Reserve a little of the marinade for a basting sauce if you wish, but discard the marinade that’s come in contact with the meat. Grill the food thoroughly and have an instant read thermometer ready to take its temperature. Chicken should be cooked to 165ºF, recommends the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160ºF and steaks and roasts, including pork roasts, to 145ºF. Fish steaks should be grilled until they are just opaque and fillets until they flake. Grilled foods can be kept hot until serving time by moving them to the side of the grill rack.
Once the food is cooked and you start setting out side dishes such as potato, macaroni, tuna, or egg salads on the picnic table, play it safe. Place each salad in a shallow container in a deep pan filled with ice. As the ice melts, drain off the water and add more ice.
When in doubt, throw
Food should not sit out for longer than two hours, or longer than one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees. Food that’s been sitting out any longer should be discarded. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!