October 16, 2021

Temperature is Key to Food Safety at Picnics

Cooking, storing and serving food at the proper temperature is key to food safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both have good information about serving food at picnics, potlucks and buffets. Here’s  a summary of what they recommend.

PicnicAt these events, it’s especially important to remember that food can spend up to two hours in the “danger zone” of 40˚ to 140˚ F, or one hour if the outdoor temperatures are above 90° F. Left out longer than this, foods will become contaminated with bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. In fact, bacteria levels can double every 20 minutes when food is too warm.

After using a food thermometer to cook meat to its proper temperature (and make sure it’s reliable and accurate), keep it warm until serving by moving to the side of the grill, just away from the coals. At home, keep the cooked meat hot in a 200 °F oven, chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.

Clean produce before transporting it to the picnic area. Rinse it under running tap water before packing it in the cooler. Scrub firm vegetables and fruits with a clean brush to remove dirt and bacteria. Never cut produce before you rinse it well under cool running water.

Keep produce and other perishable foods chilled in a cooler with ice or gel packs at 40˚ F or lower. Keep perishable food in one cooler and beverages in another. That way, you can keep the food cooler closed until you are ready to cook or serve. Store the coolers out of the sun and don’t keep them in the car, where temperatures can get very hot.

Serve foods like chicken salad in bowls placed directly on ice. As the ice melts, drain off the water and replace ice frequently.

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