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Enjoy Safer Picnics, Cookouts This Summer
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Grilled meats, potato salad and meringue pies are typical summer foods served at cookouts and picnics, but these goodies can reach the danger zone when not handled properly.
Dr. Melissa Mixon, extension nutrition specialist at Mississippi State University, said cooking out and having picnics are fun ways to enjoy the summer, but outside conditions make cautious food handling extra important.
"Summer temperatures are ideal for bacteria to grow and possibly cause foodborne illnesses. The best ways to prevent food from being contaminated are to keep it cold, cook it thoroughly, keep it hot and avoid cross contamination," Mixon said.
Safe handling of foods begins in grocery stores. Make sure meat and poultry products have been kept in cold display cases, and avoid letting those products warm up by selecting them right before checking out.
If the drive home from the store takes longer than 30 minutes, bring a cooler to put perishable items in for the trip home.
"When going on a picnic or cooking outside, keep meat and poultry cold in an ice chest until it is ready to be cooked. Also bring plenty of clean utensils and plates to prevent cross contamination. Never put cooked food on a platter that contained raw meat or poultry," Mixon said.
"Some people like to cook food partially in the microwave or oven to reduce grilling time, but this should only be done immediately before the food is ready to be placed on the grill," Mixon said.
Use meat thermometers to be sure foods reach the correct internal temperatures. Juices should run clear and flesh should not be pink.
"Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later. All food needs to be cooked completely to destroy bacteria," Mixon said.
"Remember, no matter what is being cooked, never place food coming off the grill on the same plate it was on before cooked or use the same utensils. Bacteria from uncooked juices can contaminate cooked foods," Mixon said.
"Also, be aware of other areas raw meat or poultry has come in contact with, such as cutting boards. If raw meat is placed on a cutting board and onions for a salad are later chopped there, the salad may be contaminated with bacteria from the raw meat," she said.
"When picnic meals are ready to be served, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold," Mixon said.
Bacteria can grow at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, so perishable foods need to be kept out of this danger zone.
Keep all food being carried to picnic sites cold to minimize bacterial growth. Thoroughly chill take-out foods, such as fried chicken, ahead of time unless served soon after being purchased.
"Foods like fried chicken are sometimes handled unsafely because people don't realize that even cooked foods need to be kept below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees," Mixon said.
When the picnic is over, leftovers that have been thoroughly chilled within two hours after being grilled can be transported home safely in a cooler with plenty of ice in it. If the temperature is 90 degrees or warmer, discard food that has been sitting out for more than one hour.
"Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. If refrigerated leftovers are not eaten in the next two or three days, discard them also," Mixon said.