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Wilburn: Keep your food safe when on the road
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Oh, how we long for that eight-letter word every summer, when millions of us get away from school and work.

We take to the road in cars or recreational vehicles, live on boats, relax in beach or mountain vacation homes or camp.

But no matter where we relax, we all want to enjoy good food on our trips - and that means taking precautions when handling meals when traveling.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reminds everyone that some simple, common-sense food safety rules can save a vacation from disaster. Following this advice, which is also given on the department's meat and poultry hot line, could make the difference between a vacation remembered well - and one remembered because someone got sick.

When traveling

Plan ahead: If you are traveling with perishable food, place it in a cooler with ice or freezer packs. When carrying drinks, consider packing them in a separate cooler so the food cooler is not opened frequently. Have plenty of ice or frozen gel-packs on hand before starting to pack food. If you take perishable foods along (for example, meat, poultry, eggs and salads) for eating on the road or to cook at your vacation spot, plan to keep everything on ice in your cooler.

Pack safely: Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Meat and poultry may be packed while it is still frozen; that way it stays colder longer. Also, a full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruits.

For long trips to the shore or the mountains, take along two coolers - one for the day's immediate food needs, such as lunch, drinks or snacks, and the other for perishable foods to be used later in the vacation. Limit the times the cooler is opened.

When at your destination

At the campsite: Keep the cooler in a shady spot covered with a blanket, tarp or poncho - preferably one that is light in color to reflect heat.

If you're thirsty: Bring along bottled water or other canned or bottled drinks. Always assume that streams and rivers are not safe for drinking. If camping in a remote area, bring along water purification tablets or equipment. These are available at camping supply stores.

Stay clean: Keep hands and utensils clean when preparing food. Use disposable moist towelettes to clean hands. When planning meals, think about buying and using shelf-stable food to ensure food safety.

On the water: Make sure the all-important cooler is along. Don't let perishable food sit out while swimming or fishing. Remember, food sitting out for more than two hours is not safe; the time frame is reduced to 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 F.

At the beach: Take only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid leftovers. If grilling, make sure local ordinances allow it. Partially bury your cooler in the sand, cover with blankets and shade with a beach umbrella. Bring along disposable moist towelettes for cleaning hands.

On the boardwalk: Make sure the food stands frequented look clean, and that hot foods are served hot and cold foods cold. Don't eat anything that has been sitting out in the hot sun for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 F.

Did you catch a fish?

For fin fish: Scale, gut and clean the fish as soon as they are caught. Wrap both whole and cleaned fish in water-tight plastic and store on ice. Keep three to four inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler. Alternate layers of fish and ice. Cook the fish in one to two days, or freeze. After cooking, eat within three to four days. Make sure the raw fish stays separate from cooked foods.

Crabs, lobsters and other shellfish: Keep them alive until cooked. Store in a basket under wet burlap. Crabs and lobsters are best eaten the day they are caught. Live oysters can keep seven to 10 days; mussels and clams four to five days. Caution: Be aware of the potential dangers of eating raw shellfish. This is especially true for people with liver disorders or weakened immune systems.

Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.