Food Safety Tips Make Picnics Perfect

It all comes down to temperature, experts say

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SATURDAY, July 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Ants aren't the only enemies of fun summer picnics -- foodborne illness can ruin the day, too.

But experts at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville have three simple rules for keeping al fresco dining worry-free: keep hot foods hot, keep cold foods cold, and make sure everything is clean.

"For safe food handling, temperature is key. Cold food should be stored under 35 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit and hot foot above 140 degrees. The range in-between is where bacteria grow," noted food-science professor Michael Johnson in a prepared statement.

He recommended the use of a meat thermometer when barbequing. Use the thermometer to check the center of burgers or the thickest part of chicken parts. Burgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees, while chicken should be cooked at 165 degrees.

Don't leave cooked burgers out on the picnic table, because they can quickly cool to the perfect growth range for bacteria. Instead, cook burgers as you need them, Johnson said.

Taking one or more extra coolers and freezing ice in chunks -- which last much longer than small cubes in bagged ice -- can help you keep picnic foods cold, advised Marjorie Fitch-Hilgenberg, an associate professor in dietetics at the university.

"I like to use a rectangular sheet cake pan to make ice. I put that chunk of ice in the bottom of the cooler, add ice cubes with the food, and top it all off with another chunk of ice. It lasts through the hottest weather," she said in a prepared statement.

Fitch-Hilgenberg also suggested using several coolers when you have a picnic. One cooler can carry extra bagged ice, and another cooler can hold beverages and snacks that can withstand the constant opening and closing of the lid. You can also have a separate cooler for raw meat and another for healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and vegetables and string cheese.

Hamburger patties should be prepared at home and frozen so that they remain below 40 degrees before they're put on the grill. If you do carry raw meat in the same cooler as other foods, make sure the meat is well sealed and placed on the bottom of the cooler, below the other foods.

People who are grilling meat or serving other foods at a picnic need to wash their hands frequently. If there is no water available, use disposable hand wipes. It's also essential to avoid cross-contamination from raw to cooked meat, the experts said.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers more outdoor eating food safety tips.

SOURCE: University of Arkansas, news release, July 5, 2006


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