Keep Holiday Picnics and Barbecues Safe

Posted: May 26, 2013

This holiday weekend many people will be enjoying picnics and barbecues...

While eating outdoors is enjoyable, it also poses special problems for keeping food safe to eat. Some major concerns include keeping hands and utensils clean while preparing and serving foods.

     The USDA offers the following tips for outdoor cooking.

First, keep everything clean. If possible, wash hands with soap and water before working with food. If there is no water supply at your picnic site, use clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Consider bringing water with you to use for hand washing and utensil cleaning.

  • Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
  • Cross-contamination can occur when harmful microorganisms from raw meat and poultry are transferred to cooked and other ready-to-eat foods from improperly cleaned hands, utensils and cutting boards. Don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Pack lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving the safely cooked food.

Second, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keep this rule in mind both while transporting and preparing the meal.

  • Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
  • Hot summertime temperatures can spike higher if food is stored in direct sunlight on the beach or in a boat.
  • Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees F.).
  • Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 degrees F. and 140 degrees F. and can reach dangerous levels.
  • Raw meat and poultry products may contain bacteria that cause foodborne illness. They must be cooked to proper internal temperatures to destroy these bacteria and held at temperatures that are either too hot or too cold for these bacteria to grow.

     If bringing hot take-out food such as fried chicken or barbecue, eat it within two hours of purchase. Or plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing it into an insulated cooler. In addition to a grill and fuel for cooking food, remember to pack a food thermometer to check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When reheating food at the outing, be sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F.
     Carry cold perishable food like hamburger patties, hotdogs, luncheon meats and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. Perishable cooked foods such as meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads must be kept cold, too.
     Store cold foods in the cooler except for brief times when serving. Prepare only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature. Discard any leftovers that have not remained cold.
     Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Extension in Lackawanna County.