Recipe for health: Take precautions when preparing favorite summertime foods for picnics in Oklahoma

Recipe for health: Plan your summertime picnic menu carefully in Oklahoma and follow some practical food safety precautions.
BY BECKY VARNER, beckyvarner@cox.net Published: July 15, 2014
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Never keep your picnic basket in the hot car or in the sun. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
  Jim Beckel -
Never keep your picnic basket in the hot car or in the sun. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Jim Beckel -

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.

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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.

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