In Wisconsin, the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are generally considered prime-time for picnics and outdoor grilling. The warmer weather encourages us to get outside and be more physically active and to enjoy outdoor gathering with friends and family. These gatherings typically include food, and there are things you can do to prepare and keep food safe for everyone at your event.
Maintaining food safety during the summertime can be a challenge. Due to warmer temperatures, bacteria that can cause food poisoning grow more rapidly than in the cooler months. Also, along with family outings, vacations, and eating on the run, people prepare more food and eat more meals outdoors, all of which provide their own hazards. Although safe food handling (PDF, 195 KB) rules should always apply, extra precautions are necessary during the summer to prevent foodborne illness.
The Wisconsin Division of Public Health offers these suggestions to keep food safe from harmful bacteria:
Wash hands, utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water before and after food preparation, and especially after preparing meat, poultry, eggs or seafood.
Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, eggs or seafood. For example, do not put your cooked burgers on the same plate that held the raw hamburger. Use a clean plate, or wash the plate thoroughly in hot, soapy water before transferring the burgers from the grill.
Cook meats to the proper internal temperature listed below. There are several types of food thermometers on the market that will help you determine when meat is thoroughly cooked. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a safe cooking temperature chart on their website.
Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160° F and until juices run clear. (Don't eat 'rare' hamburgers, which can make you or your family sick.)
Cook veal, lamb and pork to an internal temperature of 160° F.
Cook steaks and roasts to the following temperatures:
160° F internal temperature (medium).
170° F internal temperature (well done).
Cook ground turkey or chicken, to a minimum internal temperature of 165° F.
Cook chicken breasts to a minimum internal temperature of 170° F.
Cook whole poultry to an internal temperature of 180° F.
Fish should be cooked to a minimum of 145° F or until opaque and it flakes easily with a fork.
Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm.
Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours. Make sure the refrigerator is set at 40° F or lower and the freezer is set at 0° F. When using coolers, remember that a full cooler will keep a cold temperature longer than a half empty cooler, so pack plenty of ice. Also, try to keep the cooler out of the direct sunlight. Only prepare as much food in advance as you are able to properly chill.
When preparing foods for the grill or picnic, remember to use the fundamental rules of food safety and sanitation.
- If no water faucet is available, take some disposable, wet hand wipes, or a waterless hand cleaner outside with you. That way you can clean your hands before working with food or when you go from one type of food preparation to another.
- To keep bacteria from spreading, wash your hands again after working with raw meat or poultry before handling other food, especially food that will not be cooked or heated.
- Use only clean cutting boards and knives or use a disposable cutting board; take along several of each just to be sure. When you switch from cutting up raw meat or poultry to cutting up salad ingredients or vegetables, either wash everything in hot, soapy water or use a clean cutting board and clean utensils.
- If you are going to marinate your meat and plan to use part of the marinade as a sauce or dip, reserve some for that purpose before adding the raw meat.
- No matter how convenient it seems, do not partially cook food the day before to finish cooking at your picnic site. Often, food seems done before the internal temperature has actually reached a point high enough to kill off harmful bacteria. To save time, consider cooking your food completely the day before, then reheating it at your destination.
- The grill should be very hot before putting meat on it. Coals are ready when they have a light coating of gray ash on them. After removing your cooked meat to a clean plate or platter, leave the grill rack in place so the fire will burn off any food residue. When grilling at a public place, be sure to clean all cooking surfaces thoroughly before use.
- After the meat is cooked, use clean utensils to place it on a fresh plate for serving. Don't re-use any of the utensils, plates or bowls that were used during the preparation of raw meat. Bacteria live in the juices of raw meat and you can contaminate safely cooked meat by putting it back on the same platter that had held the meat when it was raw.
- 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. Follow the two-hour rule: don't leave perishable food un-refrigerated for more than two hours. Keep the ice chest closed and out of the sun. If you traveled away from home, put the ice chest in the passenger area of the car for the return trip. It's much cooler than the trunk.
By following these guidelines, your picnic or outdoor gathering will be more enjoyable, and you will reduce the chances of a foodborne illness making you or guests sick.
Additional information on food safety can be found at the Partnership for Food Safety Education web site: http://www.fightbac.org.