If you’re making plans for cookouts and family reunions, remember to make food safety a priority.
The University of Georgia Extension reports cases of foodborne illness normally rise during the warmer months because harmful bacteria present in foods grows faster in warm temperatures.
To keep your picnickers safe from foodborne illness, follow these steps:
Wash hands and surfaces often. Unwashed hands and surfaces are the perfect way for bacteria to make their way into the food.
Where water is not available, pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
Plan the menu carefully so you don’t have raw meats and poultry chopped on surfaces such as cutting boards that can’t be cleaned without soap and water.
When packing the cooler, it’s best to take one cooler for raw meats, poultry, fish and eggs, and a separate cooler for ready-to-eat foods.
If only one cooler is used, wrap raw meat and poultry securely to prevent juices from coming into contact with ready-to-eat food.
If serving marinated food, marinate it in the refrigerator before leaving home or in the cooler with ice. Do not leave it out at room temperature or outdoors on the table.
If marinade will be used as a sauce on cooked food, take out that portion of the marinade and set it aside for later use. Don’t put raw meat and poultry in it and use it to marinate the cooked product. The only way to safely reuse it is to boil it first to destroy bacteria.
Use clean plates and utensils with the safely cooked food, not ones with raw meat juices on them.
Check meat and poultry cooked on a grill with a food thermometer. Visit www.fightbac.org for more info on minimum internal temperatures.
Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking can’t destroy them.
Never leave food in the “danger zone” between 40 degrees and 140 degrees for more than two hours or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.
Cold foods such as luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen gel packs.
Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car, and place in the shade or shelter, out of the sun, whenever possible.
Chill cold drinks in a separate cooler so the cooler with the perishable foods isn’t constantly being opened.
Sandra Stringer is a nutrition educator with the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Call her at 770-535-8290. Her column appears biweekly on Wednesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.