It’s summertime and the temperature is rising: Is your food safe to eat? We’re not going to insult your intelligence by reminding you not to leave your mayonnaise-based potato salad out in the sun, but… OK, maybe we are. Incidences of food-borne illness rise during the summer because more people are eating outdoors without the temperature control and sanitation conditions that we have in the kitchen. And getting sick from food-borne illness is not something we wish on anyone. So before you start setting up that picnic, here are a few friendly reminders for staying safe this summer:
Wash hands: This is a good rule no matter what time of year, but it’s especially important in the summer. Wash your hands properly before you start preparing food or eating it. If you’re outdoors at a park or in the woods, use hand sanitizer or even baby wipes – just make it a rule that everyone needs clean hands before the cooking and eating begins.
Wash fruits and veggies: We’ve gotten on this soapbox before, and we’re still convinced it’s a good rule, even for organics. You don’t know who has touched it, sneezed on it, stepped on it before your put your mouth on it. Plus, if you’ve ever bought a head of organic leafy greens from the farmers’ market, you know that there are probably some friendly little critters hiding between the leaves. So give your produce the benefit of the doubt and wash it out.
Pack it safe: If you’re heading away from home with a picnic on the go, make sure that you keep everything at the proper temperature. Pack your ham and turkey sandwiches and mayonnaise-based salads on ice so that they stay cold and fresh. If you’re bringing a warm dish, pack it in an insulated carrier so that it stays warm until you get there (and then toss the leftovers that sit around at the outdoor temperature.) If you won’t have access to ice and coolers, pack fruit and veggies, crackers, dry cereal, hard cheeses, dried meats, and/or peanut butter.
Keep raw stuff separate: When you pack your cooler, if you’re bringing raw meat or chicken to cook, make sure that it is sealed and separate from the other foods you will eat. And if you use a plate for the raw meat, don’t re-use it for the cooked meat unless it’s been thoroughly cleaned with soap and hot water.
Cook it all the way: Cook your chicken until the juices run clear, and don’t leave your burgers raw in the center. Really. Yes, we agree that it tastes better when it’s pink, and it’s sad that meat isn’t what it used to be, but there’s no sense putting yourself or your kids at risk.
Keep it cold: If you’re outdoors, keep the cold food in a cooler, preferably in the shade. Also, put the drinks in a separate cooler from the food, especially if the drink cooler will be opened more often. If the food will be sitting out on a table, the rules are even stricter: According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. If the temperature is over 90 degrees, food may not be safe to eat for more than one hour.
When in doubt, throw it out: Sorry to say this, especially given how much we hate the idea of wasting food, but the alternative (getting sick) is so much worse. Keep food cold whenever you can; and when you can’t, you have to just let it go.