With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, the USDA, Recreation.gov, Food Safety and Inspection Service and United States Department of Agriculture has issued several food safety tips to ensure that your festivities aren’t hampered by sickness due to improper food handling:
Picnics and Food Safety
Although it may seem we pack too much before heading out on a picnic, they'd be quite a bit safer if we could actually pack the kitchen sink. Food spoilage and cross-contamination are real concerns when eating food outdoors in warm weather without the use of a kitchen. Be sure to follow these tips to ensure your picnic is a healthy one.
Keep Everything Clean
Find out if there's a source of potable (safe drinking) water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
Always wash your hands before and after handling food, and don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Soap and water are essential to cleanliness, so if you are going somewhere that will not have potable water, bring it with you. Even disposable wipes will do. Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving the safely cooked food.
Keep Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold
It's essential to keep hot food hot and cold food cold throughout the duration of your picnic. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Already-hot summertime temperatures can spike higher in direct sunlight. Store coolers in the shade whenever possible. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than 2 hours (1 hour when the outside temperature is above 90°F).
Carry cold perishable food like hamburger patties, hotdogs, luncheon meats and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. Perishable cooked foods such as meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads must be kept cold, too. Don't stock the cooler until immediately before leaving home. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car when traveling.
The Danger Zone
Most bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40°F or above 140°F. The temperature range in between is known as the "Danger Zone." Bacteria multiply rapidly at these temperatures and can reach dangerous levels. Raw meat and poultry products may contain bacteria that cause foodborne illness, especially when exposed to this temperature zone. They must be cooked to destroy these bacteria and held at temperatures that are either too hot or too cold for these bacteria to grow.
If bringing hot take-out food such as fried chicken or barbecue, eat it within two hours of purchase. Or plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing it into an insulated cooler.
If you plan to use a grill on your picnic, remember to pack a food thermometer. Check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When reheating food at the outing, be sure it reaches 165°F. Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature. Discard any leftovers that have not remained cold. Learn more grilling safety tips. Food safety during grilling and smoking meats is important for preventing foodborne illness:
Since many families will be grilling this Fourth of July weekend, it’s important to know more than how to grill a great burger; food safety tips are imperative for keeping family and friends healthy and happy.
Cooking meats, fish, and poultry during warm summer months increases the prevalence of foodborne illness. As the temperature rises, so does the rate that bacteria multiply. Preparing, handling, and cooking food must be performed cautiously to make certain your food is safe for consuming.
To ensure that foods are grilled or smoked thoroughly and to recommended temperatures, use an oven thermometer. You can use the thermometer while the meat or poultry smokes, making certain that the food is cooked to the required temperature. Keep in mind that the thickness of the meat you are grilling will have a direct impact on the cooking time. Generally, it is recommended to cook beef, lamb, roasts, veal, and chops to 145’ F. All cuts of pork should be cooked, grilled, roasted, or smoked to 160’ F. If you are cooking ground beef, veal, or lamb also cook these to 160’ F. Poultry should be cooked to 165’ F.
Smoking and grilling are two separate cooking methods. When smoking meats, fish, or poultry the food is not in direct contact with the flame, but rather receives indirect heat. This process takes longer to complete. Smoking food includes the use of a water or drip pan that releases steam that smokes the meat. To ensure that foods are smoked properly, it is recommended to use two types of thermometers. The first thermometer is for use on the food, the second is for the smoker. Many smokers come with thermometers built in. The smoker’s temperature should remain a consistent 225-300’ F. This temperature ensures that all harmful bacteria are thoroughly destroyed.
If you are smoking food on a charcoal smoker, make certain to only use approved fire igniters or starters and never use other materials, such as paint thinner, gasoline, or other flammable materials. Smokers should be placed in areas where they receive plenty of ventilation and are not in close proximity to trees, plants, shrubs or other materials that might become fire hazards.
Those grilling will need to ensure that meat is cut thinly to cook thoroughly. When grilling, meat is placed directly over the fire; meat that is tender is preferred. For best results, keep the lid to the grill open. You should only close the lid if you are using the grill as a smoker. Make sure that meat and poultry are completely thawed before smoking or grilling. This helps ensure that food cooks thoroughly and evenly. Though many might feel that defrosting food at room temperature is the quickest method, this can allow bacteria to multiply at a rapid rate. Defrost or thaw meat in the refrigerator for best results. If you are short on time and need to defrost meat or poultry quickly you can use your microwave’s defrost setting, however, smoke or grill the meat immediately afterwards. It is common for meat to begin to cook in the microwave during defrosting; cooking immediately afterwards prevents the meat from becoming tough or overcooked. If you are marinating meat, do so in the refrigerator, not on a counter. One of the most important steps you can take to prevent cross contamination is to use a clean plate or serving tray when transferring food from the grill or smoker. Never use the same plate that the raw meat was placed on unless it has been thoroughly washed first. Finally, when saving leftovers, immediately wrap and store leftovers and refrigerate them properly. If food has been left out for two hours or longer, discard it.
The “Not So Safe Food For Pets” List
The following foods are not safe for dogs, cats, potbellied pigs, or guinea pigs. Never give the following foods or beverages to your pets:
- Alcohol of any kind
- Anything with Caffeine
- Bones from Ham, Chicken, or Turkey (any fowl)
- Candied Yams
- Casseroles (unless you absolutely know that none of the no-no foods are in them)
- Chocolate and Cocoa (this includes things like brownies and chocolate chip cookies) and dark chocolate is the worst… exactly opposite from people.
- Jell-O Molds
- Macadamia Nuts (this includes things like cookies and pies) and go easy on nuts in general
- Pecan Pie
- Potato Skins
- Careful of processed Pork Products because of the nitrates, especially ham.
- Stuffing, unless you made it from scratch yourself. (it usually contains onions, which is very harmful to pets)
- Anything with onions in it (and garlic should be fed in moderation)
- Anything with Xylitol in it
- Grapes or raisins
- Raw eggs – this is only on the list because of possible exposure to salmonella bacteria, not because the raw eggs are bad for them. (It is the same as concerns over E Coli and other bacterial contamination with raw meat, even though the raw meat is great for them!)
- Baby food if it contains onion powder
- Milk (and American Cheese) can be a problem for some dogs. And be aware that some animals can be lactose intolerant like some people.
- Avocados – especially for birds and cats
- Sage as well as many other herbs contain essential oils and resins that can cause gastrointestinal upset and central nervous system depression to pets if eaten in large quantities. Cats are especially sensitive to the effects of certain essential oils. (Often used in dressing and stuffing)
- Also keep them away from any rising bread dough or other rising dough. It can kill them and kill them very quickly.