Outdoor eating is one of the greatest joys of summertime. Unfortunately, the escalated temperatures and lack of access to clean water can significantly bump up picnickers' chances of contracting a foodborne illness like salmonella, campylobacter or listeria.
About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so don't spoil your summer! Just take these four simple steps to stay safe and well-fed all season long.
Firmer-skinned fruits and vegetables can withstand some scrubbing, but packaged goods marked "ready to eat," "washed" or "triple-washed" don't need extra dousing. It might seem like a lot of fuss to wash produce that will be peeled, but you're minimizing the chances of transferring harmful bacteria to edible inner flesh.
If you're not sure if there will be clean, running water available at your picnic destination, bring along a jug, soap and paper towels - or at least some moist towelettes.
Oh, and you remembered to wash your hands and any cutting utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water before handling or preparing meat and produce, right? Of course you did. Now get packing.
Said perishables - cooked and raw meats, fish, cheese, eggs, salads, condiments, marinades and produce - should be individually wrapped to prevent leaks and spills. Pack raw meats at the bottom and ready-to eat items at the top to avoid potential dripping.
Marinade that's come into contact with raw food should be tossed out. If you were thinking that your delicious blend would make an ideal sauce for serving, set aside a portion before it comes into contact with the raw meat or fish.
Bring along extra clean platters, plates and cooking utensils. Once an item has been used to hold or prepare raw food like meat, seafood, or eggs, it has the potential to contaminate cooked or ready-to-eat food.
It's fine to put meat in the cooler while it's still frozen; it will just take up to 50% longer to cook than fresh meat.
When it's time to eat, dish out portions of perishable foods (like salads, sides and cheese) and quickly return the unused portion to the cooler. Don't return leftovers to the original container to mingle with untouched food. Either put them in a separate container or discard them to avoid potential contamination.
Perishable food (hot or cold) shouldn't sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F. Toss anything that's been lingering in the sun for longer than that; it's just not worth the risk.
Shrimp, lobster and crabs should be cooked until they are pearly and opaque. Clams, oysters and mussels must be heated until the shells open.
If cooked food isn't going to be eaten right away, it still needs to be kept hot. Wrap it in foil and move it away from the direct heat on the grill, or put it in an insulated container that's specifically designated for hot food.
– Fast facts on salmonella
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that people in a normal state of health who ingest Salmonella-tainted food may experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which typically begin within 12 to 72 hours. This may be accompanied by vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains. These symptoms may last about four to seven days, and then go away without specific treatment, but left unchecked, Salmonella infection may spread to the bloodstream and beyond and may cause death if the person is not treated promptly with antibiotics.
Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune symptoms should practice extreme caution, as salmonellosis may lead to severe illness or even death.
– Fast facts on listeria
According to the Food and Drug Administration, listeria is an organism that can cause foodborne illness. Symptoms of infection may include fever, muscle aches, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. Pregnant women and adults with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk and most healthy adults and children rarely become seriously ill.
- Fast facts on campylobacter