Bacteria thrives as temperatures rise, which means food safety should be a top priority when dining al fresco. Avoid food fiascoes this summer with these nine no-fail food safety tips.
1. Pack Smart
When packing a cooler for a picnic or outing be sure to wrap raw meats securely and pack at the bottom so the juices don’t contaminate the rest of the food. Continue packing the cooler in reverse, placing the foods that will be used first closest to the top. Leave a bit of space at the top of the cooler to allow air to circulate and chill the food further. Avoid a wet mess by freezing water in water-tight plastic containers and bottles instead of using loose ice cubes.
2. Keep it Cool
Foods that are normally stored in the fridge, such as lunch meats, cooked meats, creamy dressings, potato salads and soft cheeses, should be kept in an insulated cooler until it’s time to eat. The temperature of the cooler should be 4ºC (40ºF) or lower. To get it there, pack with freezer packs and blocks of ice or freeze food the day before for added insurance.
3. Store Drinks Separately
Rather than keeping food and drinks in the same container, pack two coolers! If you keep drinks in a separate container, the cooler holding the food will be opened less and stay colder longer. Also try freezing drinking boxes at home before taking them on a picnic; they’ll act as mini-icepacks and be refreshingly cold to drink.
4. Plan Water Access
Planning a picnic or camping excursion? Phone ahead if possible to find out if clean sources of water are available at the site. If clean water isn’t an option, don’t forget to bring water for drinking and a separate jug for food preparation and dish washing. Also pack disposable wipes and/or hand sanitizer, along with paper towels for hand washing.
5. Grill to the Guideline
Grilled food safety can only be assured if the internal temperatures are correct. Use a digital thermometer to help you follow these guidelines when barbequing meat:
Beef steak, medium rare: 63°C (145°F) Beef steak, medium: 71°C (160°F) Beef steak, well-done: 77°C (170°F) Pork and ground beef/pork/veal: 71°C (160°F) Ground chicken/turkey: 74°C (165°F) Chicken/turkey breasts, thighs & wings: 74°C (165°F)
6. Handle with Care
Don’t poke or stab meat with a fork or knife while you're cooking. This will cause the juices that keep meat tender to run out and can also affect food safety by contaminating surfaces with bacteria. If you have to check the temperatures of your meat more than once, clean the thermometer before using it again. Finally, use long-handled tongs to flip and move meat on the grill. When you remove the cooked meat, clean your tongs first or use a different pair.
7. Get it While it’s Hot!
Bacteria grows quickly as food cools, so eat cooked food immediately. Put all of your leftovers back in the cooler as soon as possible, and once your ice packs melt, discard all perishables. Better yet, avoid leftovers by packing only what you need for the day.
8. Make a Minimal Clean-Up Right Away
When grilling food at home or cooking while hanging out at the beach, always wash plates, utensils and cutting boards that have touched raw food thoroughly with clean water before reusing. Use the same care with raw fruits and veggies. Just because you can’t see bacteria doesn’t mean it’s not there!
9. Mind the Clock
All perishables should be kept in a cooler, but if this isn’t possible you should limit the time food is left unrefrigerated. In general, the limit is two hours - but if temperatures rise above 26°C (80°F), reduce to one hour.