NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Americans and Picnics

Americans and Picnics

          Picnics rank right up with baseball for favorite American pastimes.  Picnics      can take on many forms, such as a community picnic involving friends and neighbors, tailgate picnics, or a spur-of-the moment picnic with just the family.  One thing you can always count on every picnic - lots of good food.

          If picnic foods are not handled safely, they can quickly cause foodborne illness. To prevent illness, take safety on your picnic.  There are some unique reasons why picnic foods can be especially hazardous –

-         Picnic food receives a lot of handling. Picnic foods -- such as potato or macaroni salads, sandwich fillings, hamburger patties and cut watermelon -- often receive a lot of handling during preparation. All that handling increases the risk of contamination with harmful bacteria.

-          Food prepared for the picnic is not cooled rapidly after cooking. Some common picnic foods – think macaroni and potato salad - require precooking and are prepared in large quantities. Cooked foods must be rapidly cooled by putting in shallow pans and refrigerating immediately after cooking so harmful bacteria does not grow. Warm temperatures promote bacterial growth.

-         The warm, outdoor temperatures that make picnics so enjoyable also support the growth of harmful bacteria. The longer food is at warm temperatures, the more likely foodborne illness will result.  

To keep picnic food safe -

As always, wash hands and work areas before preparing food.

Plan your menu with an eye to safe food handling. Cook foods in plenty of time to thoroughly chill them in shallow containers in the refrigerator.

Have enough coolers with ice or frozen gel packs in which to store the perishable foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and salads. You want to keep the food at 40 degrees F. Pack foods right from the refrigerator into the coolers.

Transport the cooler inside your air-conditioned vehicle – not in the hot trunk.  At picnics, keep the cooler in the shade and keep the lid closed. Replenish the ice if it melts.  A food safety tip is to use a separate cooler for drinks so the one containing the food won't constantly be opened and closed.

Find out if there's a source of 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 food borne illness.

Pack raw meats, poultry, or seafood on the bottom of the cooler. This will reduce the risk of them dripping on other foods. Pack coolers until they are full. A full cooler will stay cold longer than one that is partially full.

If you plan on getting takeout foods such as fried chicken, e       at them within an hour of pick up.

Do not partially grill extra meat or poultry to use later. Once you begin, cook until completely done to assure bacteria are destroyed. Grill raw poultry until the juices run clear and there is no pink. Hamburger should not be pink in the center.

When taking food off the grill, do not use the same platter which held the raw meat unless you have thoroughly washed the platter in between uses.

Remember the Two Hour Rule.  Don't leave perishable food un-refrigerated for more than two hours. Put perishable foods back in the cooler or refrigerator as soon as you finish eating.  Don't leave them out while you go for a swim or a hike, and don't leave them out all afternoon to nibble on.

Cut melons need to be kept cold. Many people do not realize that melons, such as watermelons and cantaloupe, can cause foodborne illness. Bacteria, such as Salmonella and Shigella (common causes of foodborne illness), are often present on the rind. So, wash melons thoroughly before cutting then promptly refrigerate cut pieces. Melons, unlike most other fruits, are not acidic and so can support the growth of harmful bacteria.

If you cannot keep cold food cold and hot food hot, take foods that do not need refrigeration -  peanut butter sandwiches ,  dried fruit, nuts, unpeeled fresh fruit -- apples, oranges, bananas,  jelly sandwiches,  unopened cans of food, meat, fish or fruit, crackers, cookies and cakes.



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