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July is National Picnic Month; follow these safety tips this year

“Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’…and we want to handle all foods safely before we cook, grill or fry!” (A play on words from one of my favorite songs by George Gershwin)

Summer holidays provide a break from school and work, but we shouldn’t break from being smart about food safety. More care is needed since foodborne illnesses increase during the summer. July is National Picnic month and summer picnics are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and each other’s company. Keep your picnics with family and friends healthy and safe this summer by remembering the following tips.

Tips to stay food safety savvy on picnics:

• Temperature and time. Keep your picnics safe this summer by remembering that the time perishable food can be left outside the refrigerator or freezer drops from two hours to one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold on the way to, and during your picnics and outdoor gatherings.

• Is it done yet? Use a food thermometer. According to USDA research, have a food thermometer available to check the temperature of meats. Follow these guidelines for cooking meats to minimum internal cooking temperatures.

1. Poultry (ex. chicken, turkey, etc): 165 degrees

2 Ground meats, pork, lamb (ex. hamburgers): 160 degrees

3. Fish: 145 degrees

4. Beef, pork, lamb, veal (ex. steaks, roasts, chops): 145 degrees with a three-minute rest time before carving or consuming.

• Bring non-perishable foods. Reduce the worry of keeping foods at certain temperatures by limiting the number of perishable foods. Try bringing baked potato chips or pretzels instead of potato salad; washed whole fruit, dried fruit, or fruit cups instead of a fruit salad; and other snacks such as trail mix, nuts, or sunflower seeds.

• Two coolers are better than one. Bring two coolers to the gathering, one for perishable food and one for beverages. Keep perishable foods cool by transporting them in an insulated cooler kept cold with ice or frozen gel packs. Open as infrequently as possible. Store drinks in another cooler.

• Keep it clean. Make sure you check ahead and find out if there’s a source of safe drinking water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. CAUTION: Do not use disinfectant types of wipes for handwashing.  These wipes are for cleaning and sanitizing nonfood contact surfaces and not hands or surfaces that will food.

• Dangers of cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, and utensils when they are not handled properly. It can happen during preparation, grilling, and serving food and is a prime cause of foodborne illness.

• Remember to wash your hands before and after handling food, and don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving the safely cooked food.

Picnics are popular throughout the summer, and especially in July. One reason they are so popular is because many families take their vacations then and spend much of their time outdoors. The “road” to food safety can either be bumpy or smooth, depending on what precautions are taken handling meals.   We hope you have a happy, and safe 4th of July Holiday this week!   Source: Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, RD, and Extension Educator