Picnic and barbecue season offers lots of opportunities for outdoor fun with family and friends. But these warm weather events also present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. As food heats up in summer temperatures, bacteria multiply rapidly.
To protect yourself, your family and friends from foodborne illness during warm-weather months, safe food handling when eating outdoors is critical. Here are some tips:
- Before you head out the door, bring that cooler to the kitchen and clean it with warm water and soap. When packing the food, make sure to fill it with plenty of ice or frozen gel-packs.
- Keep a separate cooler for drinks. The cooler containing the drinks is opened often, letting in warm air. The cooler containing perishable food should not be opened often because the food needs to be stored as cold as possible to reduce the risk of bacterial growth.
- Be sure to pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. If the food is still frozen when you pack it, it will stay cold longer. Placing an appliance thermometer in the cooler will help you be sure the food stays at a safe temperature -- 40°F or below.
- Try to keep the food cooler full. A full cooler will maintain a cold temperature longer than one partially filled.
- Keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods or snacks meant to be eaten raw.
- If you’re spending the day at a beach, partially bury your cooler in the sand, cover it with blankets and shade it with a beach umbrella. On a hot day, especially when outside temperatures rise above 90°F, the ice in coolers melts faster so coolers can be less effective at keeping food safe.
- If you go on a boating trip, don’t let perishable food sit out while swimming or fishing. Remember, food sitting out for more than two hours (or one hour if the outside temperature is above 90 °F), must be thrown out.
- For the lucky ones who caught fish, gut the fish and make sure to wrap both whole and filleted fish in water-tight plastic. Store them in a cooler. Place three to four inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler first, then alternate layers of fish and ice. Cook the fish within one or two days, or freeze it. After cooking, eat within three to four days. Make sure the raw fish stays separate from cooked foods.
- Camping overnight? Remember to keep your cooler in a shady spot. Keep it covered with a blanket or tarp. If the ice melts or the gel packs thaw, and perishable food becomes warmer than 40°F, discard it.
- Bring along bottled water or other canned or bottled drinks. Always assume that streams and rivers are not safe for drinking. If camping in a remote area, bring along water purification tablets or equipment. These are available at camping supply stores.
- Keep hands and all utensils clean when preparing food. Use disposable moist towels to clean hands. When you plan meals, think about buying and using shelf-stable food to ensure food safety.