As summer heats up, so too does people’s desire to be outdoors longer. Whether it’s a family picnic or neighborhood barbecue, this often translates into people eating and preparing more meals outdoors.
To help keep bacteria at bay that can otherwise result in foodborne illnesses, experts provide the following tips.
• Practice good hand-washing. Unwashed or improperly washed hands and surfaces can quickly spread germs and cause foodborne illness.
“Like you would at home, you should wash your hands with soap and water before you start preparing food outdoors like at a picnic or barbecue,” said Dr. Ashley Askew of The Kearney Clinic, a family medical clinic located at 305 Platte-Clay Way in Kearney. “Sometimes that can be harder because you may not have running water right there, so you have to plan ahead. Maybe you take a jug of water with you and soap and you have some paper towels, maybe some moist towelettes or hand wipes of some sort. Some hand sanitizer might work.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soapy water when possible.
• Don’t cross-contaminate food. Improper handling of food, kitchen tools and surfaces can cause microorganisms to transfer from raw to cooked food.
“Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness,” states the USDA’s Food Safety Service in an online release at www.fsis.usda.gov.
“Keep your raw foods separate from foods that are ready to eat such as fruits and vegetables. You might want to even pack those separately so they are not packed in the same cooler and juice from the meat leaks on your fruits and vegetables,” said Askew.
• Cook foods to proper temperature. Food safety experts said food is safely cooked when it is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
“Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood and egg products,” states the USDA release.
“When it comes to taking meat to a barbecue, you also shouldn’t probably thaw it out on your counter. You should thaw it out in the refrigerator and then put into your ice chest cold,” said Askew. “Or, you should just take it frozen and cook it from the frozen state.”
• Keep cold foods cold. Keeping food at an unsafe temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.
“Cold, refrigerated perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water,” states the Food Safety release. “Preserve the cold temperature of the cooler by replenishing the ice as soon as it starts to melt.”
While outdoor temperatures and whether products are in direct sunlight make a difference, Askew said in general, as a precaution, perishable foods should not be left outside a cooler such as on a table or serving surface, longer than about an hour.