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Precise picnic packing
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Area calendars and datebooks are still filled with summer gatherings such as family reunions.

Whether you are driving to a relative’s home, a park or community center, taking favorite foods along can make the trip more enjoyable and economical.

Your menu may include picnic items such as pimento cheese sandwiches, fried chicken and deviled eggs. And, of course, hamburgers and hot dogs to cook on the grill can find their way onto the menu as well.

Regardless, food safety is important. Make a plan to pack perishable foods carefully and safely this summer.

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offers these tips:

Start with a clean cooler and a cold source. Ice, frozen gelpacks, frozen bottled water and frozen food are all great cold sources to keep the cooler temperature safe.

Monitor the temperature with a refrigerator thermometer in the warmest part of the cooler. Dangerous bacteria can multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, also known as the temperature danger zone.

Discard food left in the danger zone for more than two hours. If the temperature is 90 degrees or higher, discard the food after one hour.

Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer.

Cooking meat and poultry before adding them to the cooler is a good idea.

Raw meat and poultry can be frozen to stay cool longer. Always pack raw meat and poultry in the bottom of the cooler or in a separate cooler to protect other perishable and ready-to-eat foods from cross-contamination.

Double-wrap meat and poultry in resealable zipper food storage bags or disposable containers with snap-on lids to keep raw meat and poultry juices from contaminating foods, utensils and surfaces. Raw meat and poultry juices can contain dangerous bacteria.

A full cooler will maintain cold temperatures and keep food out of the temperature danger zone longer. Replenish the cooler with ice as food is removed.

Plan to store the cooler inside the air-conditioned vehicle while traveling and insulate the cooler by wrapping it with the picnic blanket.

Upon arrival, keep the cooler out of the direct sun and in a shady location.

Take all needed items out at one time, instead of one at a time.

Pack drinks in a separate cooler since it will be opened more often. This will help keep the temperature of the cooler with perishable foods out of the danger zone.

Remind everyone it’s just as important to keep the picnic cooler lid closed as it is your home refrigerator door.

Clean the cooler before and after every use. Wash thoroughly with hot, soapy water; rinse and air dry.

Keep your summertime travel enjoyable with food that’s safe to eat.

Sandra Stringer is a nutrition educator with the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. She may be contacted at 770-535-8290. Her column appears biweekly on Wednesdays and on