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Picnic food safety: What you need to know to prevent food poisoning

Family enjoying a picnic
Family enjoying a picnic
Wiliamart via Wikimedia Commons

Whether your picnic destination is Lake Michigan or your own backyard, there are steps you can take to prevent food poisoning. The warm weather of summer draws us outdoors to enjoy the fresh air, sporting events and day trips to the beach. Not only do we enjoy the higher seasonal temperatures, so do bacteria. These potentially deadly organisms multiply as fast as swimmers in water on a muggy day.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has several resources to aid in preventing foodborne illnesses. Following is a quick rundown of the current food safety guidelines.

Question (Q): How cold does the food in a cooler need to be?

Answer (A): Food in a cooler should be at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth.

Q: What temperature should hot food be kept at?

A: Hot food should be kept at or above 140°F.

Q: How long can food set out on the picnic table?

A: Food should not be kept out of an insulated container for more than 2 hours. If the air temperature is above 90°F, it should only be kept out one hour.

Q: How can I wash my hands when there is no running water?

A: Use a water jug, soap and paper towels. Hand sanitizer or moist disposable towelettes are also a good choices.

Q: What items should I take to the picnic area?

A: Useful items include a cooler with ice or freezer gel packs, food thermometer, clean utensils, paper towels, trash bags and storage containers for leftovers.

Q: Is it okay to reuse the plate and utensils that was used to grill meat?

A: No. The plate and utensils need to be washed in hot, soapy water to prevent the spread of bacteria from raw meat juices. Take extra plates and utensils.

Food poisoning can be prevented by planning ahead. These tips do not prevent ants and mosquitoes from showing up but they do decrease the risk of bacteria.