Just saying “potato salad” brings visions of outdoor dining. Yes, it’s summer and the time when many food events move outdoors. I am guessing you may have experienced being at an outdoor event where the food sat out for hours. I know I have. When that happens, I generally bypass food such as potato salad where food bacteria may be beginning to grow and move to the cookies and sodas or water! To make sure you get the most out of your next outdoor event, (and onto your guests’ plates), here are a few important safety tips to keep in mind.
· Use good hygiene when preparing food. Wash your hands and work area thoroughly, whether you are doing it at home or outdoors.
· Find out what facilities you will have at your destination to determine what type of equipment you may need to bring to ensure food safety, e.g., sanitary water, cooking equipment including crock pots or grills, etc.
· Make sure any cooked foods have plenty of time to chill before packing them in coolers. Use shallow containers to help food cool quickly and thoroughly.
· Wash skin and rinds of fresh fruits and vegetables before cutting into them to remove any bacteria that may be present.
· Pack coolers with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Refrigerated foods need to be kept at 40ºF until you are ready to cook or eat it. Meats can be packed frozen or partially frozen so they stay cold longer.
· Pack raw meats, poultry or seafood in containers with secure re-sealable lids and place them into the bottom portion of the cooler to make sure their juices cannot drip on other foods.
· Put beverages in a separate cooler away from other foods. The beverage cooler tends to get opened often which warms the interior.
· Transfer coolers in the air-conditioned portion of the car rather than a hot trunk.
· Place food coolers in the shade once you arrive at your destination; then cover them with a blanket to make sure they maintain a cold temperature.
· Is cooking raw meat in your plan? Make sure you do not reuse utensils or platters that have been in contact with the raw items. Bring clean ones to have available at grill-side to serve cooked foods.
· Bring a thermometer and check meat temperatures to make sure the meat is cooked to proper doneness.
· Do not let foods remain in the “danger” zone (between 40ºF and 140ºF) for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90ºF. These are the temperatures that allow bacteria to grow rapidly and lead to foodborne illness.
Now that you’ve taken these precautionary measures to ensure food safety for you and your guests, pack the tablecloth, dishware and napkins and head to the great outdoors. You are ready to be food safe and leave the “bugs” where they belong…crawling in the grass at the park.