Safe Summer Meals: 10 Tips for Keeping Your Picnics and Cookouts Safe
Eating outside is an American summer tradition. However, knowing how to pack a cooler and prepare food can make or break a whole day’s fun with just one bite. Food safety is a top concern for U.S. farmer-volunteers from the CommonGround program, a grassroots movement to create conversations about today’s food and farming. The volunteers want to make sure you’re aware of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s tips to ensure your outdoor meal makes the food-safety grade.
- First of all, pour ice in the bottom of coolers, or pack plenty of ice packs. Ice should surround all foods, and the cooler should be packed to the top. This keeps the cooler temperature at or below 40 degrees, the target temperature for safely storing food. Also:
- Transfer perishable foods like meat and chicken directly from the refrigerator or freezer to your cooler. The USDA says frozen and refrigerated foods last longer than food that has not been cooled prior to packing. Frozen foods act as another block of ice, helping maintain the low temperature. Frozen foods also reduce bacteria growth on food and unnecessary dripping inside the cooler.
- Wrap all foods in plastic re-sealable bags to catch spills or drips. Juices from uncontained raw meat can leak to the bottom of the cooler or drip on other food, which could spread bacteria.
- Always pack meat products at the bottom of the cooler.
- If traveling long distances, be sure to pack two separate coolers. Fill one with food and the other with drinks. This prevents food from contaminating drinks. It also provides a consistent temperature in the food cooler so perishables will be fresh when it’s time to eat.
- Store coolers in a shady spot, and open and close cooler lids quickly.
- Cleanliness is essential to food safety. Clean utensils and preparation surfaces early and often.
- To avoid cross contamination, use different utensils for cooking and cutting meats from those you use for vegetables. Store utensils outside of the cooler in a bag or wrapped in a kitchen towel.
- Clean hands with a moist towelette before and after preparing food.
- After you enjoy a meal or snack, discard any food that is left out for more than two hours, the point at which bacteria start to grow. When temperatures rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, that time drops to one hour.
Learn more about food safety and packing coolers at www.usda.gov.