NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Summer - The Picnic Season!

Picnic Food Safety

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Picnics have a long history and conjure up many memories for people. The definition of what constitutes a picnic has changed through time. According to some food historians, picnics originally were more like "potlucks" where everyone brought a share of the food. By the 1860s, picnics became associated with the outdoors.

Early outdoor picnics were quite formal in some countries. If you were a member of the British upper class, you may have dined on linen-topped tables with servants waiting on you. You needed to dress formally for these meals.

Picnic menus have changed through time, too, but they typically included sandwiches, desserts and coffee or lemonade.

According to a 1904 cookbook, some of the suggested picnic menus are familiar today, including foods such as chicken sandwiches, deviled eggs and lemonade.

Now, picnic menus can consist of almost anything from gourmet box lunches picked up at a restaurant to peanut butter sandwiches to burgers prepared on a portable grill.

Compared with our predecessors, we know a lot more about food safety and have better equipment to keep foods cold and safe. If you are thinking about enjoying an old-fashioned picnic, consider these tips:

·         Plan your menu with safe food handling in mind. Be sure to keep high-moisture, high-protein foods such as meat, fish and poultry in zip-top bags or sealed containers in an ice-filled chest separate from ready-to-eat foods. If you are preparing hamburgers, shape the patties at home. If salads are on your menu, be sure to keep them in sealed containers on ice.

·         Find out if there is running water at your picnic site for use in washing your hands, cleaning utensils and preparing food. If not, plan your menu accordingly or bring some water in gallon containers. Disposable hand wipes also help clean hands before eating.

·         When packing food for your picnic, avoid cross-contamination. Place meat in leak-proof containers away from ready-to-eat foods such as buns and cookies.

·         Avoid placing raw meat packages in the same containers with soda pop cans because the meat juices could get on the cans and travel to your mouth.

·         Keep cold foods cold. On hot days (90 degrees and above), perishable food can be held safely on the serving table for no more than an hour.

·         Bring your food thermometer. Cook foods to safe temperatures for quality and safety reasons. Burgers should reach an internal temperature of 160 F, chicken and other poultry should reach 165 F and beef steaks and pork chops should reach an internal temperature of 145 F.

Potato salad is an old standby for picnic goers.  Years ago, mayonnaise was made with raw eggs, which can carry salmonella bacteria. Today's mayonnaise is acidic and made with pasteurized eggs, making it rarely the culprit in foodborne illness outbreaks. Usually dirty hands, cross-contamination and improper storage temperatures lead to the issues associated with salads.

For more information about nutrition, visit http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist

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