As the summer season heats up, barbecues, picnics and other outdoor parties allow us to enjoy our beautiful surroundings.
But be sure to take care with your picnic food so that you can spend your time enjoying the weekend, rather than running to the bathroom or emergency department.
Follow these easy steps to keep your food safe and prevent food-borne illness this season: clean, separate, cook and chill.
Clean hands, clean surfaces and clean produce.
Always wash your hands before preparing or eating food. Washing with soap and running water for 20 seconds is the best way. Washing your hands is especially important if you have been playing outside or if you have handled raw meats, poultry or eggs.
Rinse your fruits and vegetables before using them too. All melons, including watermelon, need to be rinsed well under running water before cutting them up. Because they grow on the ground, their rinds can be quite dirty, and that dirt, and the bacteria in it, can be transferred from a knife blade into melons as they are cut.
Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods. If you have access to a refrigerator, keep raw meats and poultry on the lowest shelf; if using coolers, keep raw meats in a separate cooler to avoid contaminating other foods. (Make sure to thoroughly wash the raw meat cooler afterward.)
Use separate utensils, cutting boards, and platters for raw meats and chicken as well.
Cook using a meat thermometer or digital food thermometer to check internal cooking temperatures. Color and texture are not accurate gauges of doneness.
Cook hamburgers and ground beef or pork to at least 160 degrees. Poultry, leftovers, casseroles and stuffed foods should be cooked to 165 degrees.
Once cooked, keep foods hot, at least 135 degrees, to prevent bacteria from growing in the food. And use a clean plate for cooked items.
Use insulated containers to keep hot foods hot.
Chill leftovers within two hours. Divide large pieces of meat, large containers of soup, and large containers of side dishes into smaller containers so they cool faster.
When outside, use ice or cold packs in coolers to keep items cold, at 41 degrees or less; place ice or cold packs on top of the food to keep it colder.
Bring an extra cooler of ice to top off the food cooler; use ice from a separate bag to add to drinks.
For events lasting more than one or two hours, don’t serve up all of the food at once. Instead, reserve some in the cooler or on the grill to keep cold or hot until needed.
So remember to clean, separate, cook and chill your food so that you can enjoy the summer with friends and family.
And we would be remiss if we didn’t remind you to wear sun block and insect repellant. Have a happy, healthy and safe summer!
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.