picnic

You only need to have food poisoning once to know how incredibly awful it can be—and to become committed to doing everything possible to prevent further foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that every year, 48 million Americans—nearly one in six—will get sick from a foodborne illness.

We’ve rounded up our six best tips to keep your summer picnics and barbeques safe and healthy.

1. Wash your hands (duh)

According to the CDC, the easiest way to prevent the spread of foodborne illness is to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food. In case you need a little refresher course (hey, it’s been a while since preschool!): wash your hands for a full 20 seconds in warm soapy water to get the best clean. Try singing “Happy Birthday” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to yourself to estimate 20 seconds.

2. Last in, first out—Keep your cooler cool

When you’re taking foods with you to a park, the beach, the amusement park, or a baseball game, put a little thought into how you pack. Put the foods you intend to eat first—say, snacks or salads—on top, and the things you plan to eat last—like your main course or dessert—at the bottom. That way, the foods that need to stay cold and fresh the longest, won’t be exposed to as many temperature changes from opening the lid and moving stuff around. (Plus, it’ll be SO much easier to find stuff!)  

When you get where you’re going, try to keep your cooler in the coolest possible spot. If you’re in a park, store it in the shade, maybe under the picnic table. If you’re at the beach, you can even bury your cooler half way in the sand and shade it with an umbrella.

3. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot

Invest in some good gear to keep your foods at the proper temperatures when you travel. Make sure your cooler is deep enough to hold all your food and plenty of ice; also make sure that the lid seals securely.

If you can find a place to buy it, a solid block of ice will last longer and melt more slowly than cubed or crushed ice.  And, as your ice melts, don’t drain the water; the water will still keep things cold. Just make sure you have a way to keep your food up out of the slush.

When you’re taking hot foods to a picnic or barbeque, place them in an insulated bag or thermos.  

4. Use separate cutting boards and utensils

Whether you’re camping for a month or just barbequing at the beach, you’ll want to be sure you pack enough utensils so that you have one set for raw meats, and another set for everything else. This includes knives, cutting boards, bowls, tongs, etc. Cross-contamination can be a big issue, especially when you’re out and about.

5. Avoid foods that spoil easily

That means ix-nay on the raw eggs in the picnic basket. But in all seriousness, try to plan your menu with food safety in mind. Fresh fruits and raw veggies are always a good choice and will be less prone to spoilage than mayonnaise or dairy-laden dishes. And, when you can, cook the meats at home; it’s much more challenging to keep them fresh and cook them to the right temperature on a barbeque pit in the park.

6. Use a thermometer

If your plans absolutely must include cooking meat away from home, be sure to pack your instant-read thermometer—and know how to use it. Beef and egg dishes should reach 160 degrees; ground turkey and chicken 165 degrees; and chicken and turkey breasts 170 degrees.

Image by Norma Desmond

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