Avoid a post-picnic sick

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Planning for the perfect picnic for two, or for 20? Picnics and barbecues are what make summertime fun, as long as you take the right steps to avoid food poisoning. That’s a big problem from May through September, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

So to avoid inviting that disaster, here are some food prep tips to keep your meals safe for everyone.

On your packing list

Moist towelettes or plain old soap and a jug of water

You’ll use this to wash your hands before, during and after handling foods.

Extra plates and utensils

Use one set for raw meats, and a clean set for serving.

Plastic bags

Plastic bags for utensils that touch raw meat, after cooking is done.

Meat thermometer

The key to safe and tasty grilled food is cooking each item to the right temperature. Check out this guide to get direction on how to cook it safely. 

Pre-washed fruits and vegetables

Pre-washed fruits and vegetables like lemons and melons. Rinse them under cold, running water to remove any bacteria that could transfer to your hands or other food. Packaged foods labeled “pre-washed” don’t need to be washed again.

Lots of ice

Keep uncooked meats and other perishable foods at 40 degrees or colder. Plan to bring enough ice for two or even three coolers: one for raw meats, one for fresh vegetables or fruit dishes (so they won’t be contaminated by uncooked meat), and possibly a third just for beverages—so perishable foods won’t be exposed to the warm outside air as guests get their drinks.

During the picnic

Cook foods thoroughly

Use a meat thermometer to test the internal temp of your meats. A general guide: Cook ground meat and poultry until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Fresh beef, pork or fish should be cooked until it reaches 145 degrees.

Keep hot foods hot

140 degrees or hotter is safest to prevent bacteria growth. If you’re transporting hot cooked dishes, keep them in a cooler (without ice, of course!) until it’s time to eat. Partially cooking and then grilling meats is best left for home picnics, where you can move the food to the grill immediately so bacteria has no time to grow.

Keep cold food cold

Keep cold foods that can spoil in the cooler and at 40 degrees or colder until it’s time to eat.

Watch the weather, and your watch

If the high temperature is 90 degrees or more, put all perishable foods away within an hour of serving. Otherwise, return them to the cooler within two hours. To avoid food-borne illness, throw out any foods left out longer.

Want more tips for a safer summertime picnic? Visit our Food Safety health topic center.

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