No-Risk Picnics

Use these simple safety tips when you pack your picnic basket or cooler to avoid the risk of food-borne illness.

'Tis the season for picnics and cookouts, and also the season for increased risk of food poisoning. Before you pack your picnic basket or cooler, remember these simple food safety tips.

How to Pack a Cooler
To keep cold food safe, it needs to be kept colder than 40°F to prevent bacteria from growing. Here's how to make sure your foods stay at the proper temperature.
•Take only the amount of food you think you'll use.
•Make sure that all of the food is cold when you put it in the cooler. If you have any frozen items, put them in the cooler frozen and they'll help keep the other foods cold.
•Reserve the bottom of the cooler for colder foods.
• Keep cooked and raw foods in separate containers, and place ground beef and others meats separately in zip-top plastic bags.
•Pack the food snugly in a well-insulated cooler with a secure lid. Fill the cooler with ice, or use ice packs and frozen bottles of water. Do this just before leaving the house, and don't open it until you're ready to serve the food.
•Keep cold drinks in a separate cooler because the cooler with drinks will be opened and closed frequently.
•If possible, transport the cooler in the air-conditioned car instead of in a hot trunk.

Safe Serve
•Keep hot food hot. Food needs to be at 140°F or hotter to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Take-out foods or foods cooked just before being transported to the picnic can be carried hot. Wrap hot food in towels, then newspaper, and place inside a box or heavy paper bag. Keep these foods warm on a lit grill or use within one hour.
•Eat take-out foods such as fried chicken or barbecued beef within two hours of pick-up or buy ahead of time and chill before packing the foods into the cooler.
•Keep foods covered to prevent contamination by insects. Many insects can carry harmful bacteria and viruses on their bodies.
•Follow the 2-hour rule: don't leave perishable food unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

Keep it Clean
•Find out if there's a source of safe drinking water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
•Wash your hands before and after handling food, and don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry.

Handling Leftovers
•Put perishable foods back in the cooler or refrigerator as soon as you finish eating. Don't leave them out while you go for a swim or a hike, and don't leave them out all afternoon to nibble on.
•Because most picnic leftovers have been sitting out for more than an hour and have had many people handling them, throw them out.
•Cold foods kept in a cooler that still has ice may be safe. If the ice is melted, throw out the food. Cold water cannot keep foods cold enough to be safe.

Compiled and Edited by Anne Cain, R.D., Senior Food Editor, MyRecipes.com

April 2008