Balmy summer temperatures invite us to spend more time outside, going on adventures and soaking up every last ray of sunshine. It also signals picnic season, when many people will venture outside to enjoy meals with family and friends. As the temperatures rise, food safety becomes a greater concern as harmful bacteria proliferate in the temperature “danger zone.” Remember these food safety tips when you pack your picnic basket.

Wash Up

The first line of defense against foodborne illness is ensuring clean hands and clean surfaces. This can often be overlooked when outdoors, especially if there are no facilities on site for hand washing. To be safe, plan ahead by bringing hand soap and water or hand sanitizer to thoroughly wash hands prior to handling any food. Bring wipes or wash cloths for cleaning surfaces prior to dining.

Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Make sure to wash all produce to remove dirt and contaminants from the exterior. Harmful microbes on the exterior of fresh produce can cause foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella, Listeria and E. Coli. Wash berries, apples, peppers, etc. by running under cold running water. For root vegetables, like potatoes, scrub with a wire brush to remove dirt and grit.

Avoid Cross Contamination

If your picnic plans involve utilizing a grill to cook food on site, be sure to keep raw poultry and meats securely wrapped and separate from ready to eat foods, such as salads, pre-cooked meats or raw produce. Designate specific utensils and dishes for raw and cooked foods, avoiding transferring cooked food onto the same dish that was used to hold uncooked meat and poultry.

Keep Cold Foods Cold and Hot Foods Hot

The temperature “danger zone” is between 40 and 140°F. It is coined the “danger zone” because bacteria grows most rapidly within this range. For this reason, it is essential that foods pass through this temperature zone quickly – within two hours or less. In warm summer temperatures, ensure that cold foods are kept cold. Cold foods should be held at 40°F or below. Bring a cooler with ice or freezer packs to store meat and poultry, pre-cut produce, deli meat, and salads. Likewise, hot foods should be kept hot. Hold foods at a temperature of 140°F or higher if food cannot be chilled immediately. Throw out any foods that are within the temperature danger zone for more than two hours.

Cook Food Thoroughly

If planning to cook food on site, make sure to bring a thermometer to ensure food is cooked to a safe temperature. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey should be cooked to a temperature of 165°F. Seafood and whole cuts of meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F and ground meats should register 160°F.

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