Picnics and outdoor cooking with family and friends are summertime traditions and part of our summer fun. To ensure the fun doesn’t threaten your healthy lifestyle or get cut short by illness, plan your menu carefully and follow practical food safety precautions.
The chance for bacteria growth in food multiplies rapidly during warm-weather events. This can lead to food spoilage and cause serious illness. Fortunately there are many things we can do to keep food safe and healthy. Serving a healthful menu and practicing safe food handling precautions that prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying are important to keep everyone healthy and protect folks from getting sick. These precautions should be implemented when handling and preparing food at home, packing the food, transporting food to the picnic location, preparing food at the picnic and serving the food.
Cleanliness begins with hand-washing. Always scrub with soap and warm running water before handling any food. Rub hands together, working up lather for at least 20 seconds while washing the front and back of hands, between fingers and under nails. Dry hands with a disposable paper towel or clean hand towel. Clean all work surfaces with hot soapy water to remove food particles and any spills. Sanitize counters and work areas. All sponges, dish cloths and towels should be clean and changed often. Dirty hands, work surfaces and anything else that comes in contact with food can contaminate the food with harmful bacteria or viruses that can cause illness.
Cutting boards and utensils should be clean. Cutting boards, utensils and platters that are used for raw poultry, meat and seafood must never be used for these foods after they are cooked. This spreads bacteria from the raw to cooked foods and is called cross-contamination. Another common way cross-contamination occurs is when the same spatula or other utensil used when cooking raw poultry, meat and seafood is used to place the cooked food on a serving platter. It is wise to use different cutting boards for foods like fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw than the ones used for raw poultry, meat and seafood, to prevent transferring bacteria from a cutting board that has not been properly washed in hot soapy water.
Hot and cold matters
Always cook foods to the proper internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria that can cause illness. It is best to use a meat thermometer and cook foods to the recommended temperature for that particular food.
Food must be kept at safe temperatures to stay safe before eating. Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees or higher to prevent bacteria from growing. If hot dishes are prepared in advance of the picnic, they should be completely cooked and kept hot. Plan the preparation time so that food will be eaten as soon as possible after it is cooked. Do not partially cook foods before transporting them to the picnic site. This can allow bacteria that were not killed with enough heat to grow. Foods must be thoroughly cooked to kill harmful bacteria that may be present. Wrap the cooked hot food well and place in insulated containers until ready to serve. Keep cold foods at 40 degrees or colder to prevent bacteria growth. Pack cold foods in a clean, insulated cooler that has been thoroughly washed with warm soapy water and rinsed well with plenty of fresh water. It is a good idea to use one cooler for food and another one for beverages, since the beverage cooler likely will be opened frequently. This protects perishable foods from frequent exposure to warmer temperatures.
Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed well under running water before packing in the cooler. Melons should be washed well under running water before cutting. Since these grow on the ground, they are exposed to bacteria, and a knife can carry bacteria from the outside of the melon to the inside when it is cut. This is another example of cross-contamination.
At the site
Perishable foods should never be out for more than two hours or for more than an hour if the outdoor temperature is higher than 90 degrees. If there is any doubt about the safety of food, throw it out. It is never worth the risk of someone getting ill.
Nonperishable foods and other items including paper plates, the platters to hold raw foods and different ones to serve the food after it is cooked, cooking and serving utensils, meat thermometer, drinking cups, napkins, paper towels, plastic bags and aluminum foil can be packed in a clean picnic basket or laundry basket. Take provisions for washing hands and for cleaning the outdoor grill (when using the grill to cook) if the picnic site does not have provisions for washing hands. A water jug and soap, moist disposable towelettes for cleaning hands or hand sanitizer formulated to kill bacteria are good options to keep handy.
Transport the cooler in the backseat of an air-conditioned car instead of the trunk, which can act like an oven on a hot day. Place the cooler in a cool place like under a shade tree or picnic table after arriving at the picnic site. Never keep it in the hot car or in the sun. Remove only the food from the cooler that will be eaten right away. and keep the remaining food in the cooler.
Choose healthy foods to serve at the picnic. And I like to keep it simple, cool and refreshing. My picnic menu includes Caesar chicken in a pita pocket; cucumber and tomato salad with cilantro; corn and red bell pepper salad; and fresh berry kabobs with vanilla yogurt.
Caesar chicken in a pita pocket
Makes 6 pita pocket halves
1 pound raw skinned chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons shaved Parmesan
2 cups torn Romaine lettuce leaves
12 fresh tomato slices
6 whole-wheat pita pocket halves
Place chicken in large pot. Cover with water and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a chicken breast should register 165 degrees to be sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
Shred or chop the chicken when it is cool enough to handle.
In a medium bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, pepper and mustard. Stir to make dressing.
Add cooked chicken to dressing and stir to coat chicken.
Stuff each pita pocket half with 1/3 cup chicken mixture. Tuck 1/3 cup lettuce leaves, two tomato slices and 1 tablespoon Parmesan around the chicken filling in each stuffed pocket.
Nutrition information: Each pita pocket half contains about 256 calories and 12 grams fat.
Cucumber and tomato salad with cilantro
Makes 6 servings
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups peeled diced cucumber
2 cups diced tomatoes
Combine onion, cilantro and salt in a medium bowl and stir to mix. Add cucumber and tomatoes and toss.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Nutrition information: Each serving contains about 20 calories and a trace amount of fat.
Corn and red bell pepper salad
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
15.25-ounce can corn, drained
1 cup diced red bell pepper
Combine vinegar, olive oil and parsley in a medium glass bowl. Stir to mix. Add corn and bell pepper and stir. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Nutrition information: Each serving contains about 91 calories and 5.6 grams fat.
Fresh berry kabobs with vanilla yogurt
Makes 4 servings
24 small to medium fresh strawberries, stems removed
24 fresh blueberries
24 fresh blackberries
24 fresh raspberries
1 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
24 toothpicks or small skewers
Thread one of each berry on each toothpick or skewer to make tiny kabobs. Dip in yogurt and enjoy.
Nutrition information: A serving is six kabobs. Each serving contains about 65 calories and no fat.
To learn more
ABC’s of What You Eat
Becky will teach the “ABC’s of What You Eat” at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Buy For Less Gourmet Grille at 2500 N Pennsylvania. Class size is limited. Call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.