Summer and outdoor eating go hand in hand. Picnics, BBQs and family reunions are the name of the game. But before you fire up the grill, make sure you’re prepped on how to protect your diners from nasty foodborne illnesses.
According to a 2012 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 94 percent of Americans believe the family members who prepare food in their homes are doing a good job. But according to the CDC, one in six Americans—or 48 million people—still get sick from foodborne illnesses. What’s worse? Around 3,000 die from these diseases, which are caused by nasty pathogens like salmonella—which can show up in common items such as eggs and poultry.
Click through to find out how to keep everyone safe at your next summertime get together.
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Separate raw and cooked foods
When packing foods for a picnic, keep your raw and cooked foods separated. Do not reuse a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood for serving—unless it has been washed first. Otherwise, you can spread bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked food.
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Cook picnic food properly
Everyone wants to save time at the grill so we can feed those hungry mouths faster. Some people even partially cook food ahead of time. A clever solution? Depends on whom you ask, but the consensus is it’s a bad idea.
The USDA frowns on partial cooking, recommending that you cook all meat completely at the picnic site. Partially cooking your food ahead of time can allow bacteria to survive and multiply to the point where extra cooking won’t kill contaminants.
Check that your meats cook thoroughly by using a food thermometer. Beef, lamb, and pork chops should all be cooked at a minimum of 145°F, according to the USDA. Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160°F, and all poultry to a safe temperature of at least 165°F.
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Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds or pack disposable towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces if you’re away from home and sources of potable water. Remember to wash fruits and veggies, along with your work surfaces, like cutting boards and knives.
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Don’t thaw on the counter
Bacteria grow quickly at room temperature. New York’s Department of Health recommends that if you’re thawing food, make sure to do so in the fridge the night before or in the microwave just before cooking.
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Be aware of the ‘danger zone’
Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. The “danger zone”—between 40°F and 140°F—is when bacteria in food can multiply rapidly, leading to foodborne illnesses such as salmonella. To protect your meals, make sure to keep cold foods in the cooler at 40°F or below until serving time. Hot foods should be kept at or above 140°F, wrapped well and placed in an insulated container until serving.
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Use separate coolers
Cold foods should be kept in an insulated cooler with several inches of ice, ice packs, or containers of frozen water. Better Homes & Gardens recommends you keep one cooler for drinks and another for perishable foods so warm air doesn’t hit your perishables every time someone wants a cold beverage.
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Perishable food at room temperature that’s left out for more than two hours should be thrown away, according to the FDA. Remember to put leftover perishables back on ice or in a cooler when you’re done eating so they don’t spoil. And if the outside temperature is more than 90°F, don’t leave food out for more than an hour. Just remember: “If you have any doubts, throw it out.”