Food Safety for Outdoor Dining

No one wants to spend a warm, beautiful day treating a belly-ache while the party is outside. Practicing common sense and food safety could be the difference. A bit of planning, gathering the tools and effectively following the basic concepts will keep your family and friends safe from food poisoning.

The germs which cause food borne illness are invisible and odorless. Before an item has spoiled enough to be obvious, bacteria has done the damage. Without the aid of science to detect contamination, the best method avoid problems is prevention. Following these guidelines will help to keep the party food-safe.

Be a Clean Machine
Keep all food preparation surfaces clean, use sanitary utensils and wash your hands. Sounds simple enough but outdoors it may be a challenge to accomplish these tasks. Soap and water is the most effective method of cleaningbut may not be convenient. Use prepackaged sanitizing towels or make up a small bucket of diluted bleach solution (2 oz. bleach to 1 gallon water) to use when wiping up spills or cleaning surfaces.

The most important item to clean is hands. Use soap and water to scrub hands for at least 20 seconds. If frequent hand washing is impractical, have moist towelettes or hand sanitizer available to use. Hands must be cleaned after every contamination. Wash your hands before handling food especially after using the bathroom, eating or covering a sneeze.

Segregate – Don’t Cross Contaminate
Uncooked meat, chicken and fish must be kept separate from prepared food. Package raw items in plastic bags or sealed containers to prevent juices spilling into other foods. Never put cooked meat back on the same soiled plate used to transport it while it was raw. Use a clean serving dish for food taken from the grill.

Use separate cutting boards and knives to steer clear of cross contamination. Pork and beef may be cut on the same surface, another for chicken and one more for fish. Using pre-sliced breads, cheese or vegetables to eliminate the need for additional knives and boards.

Thaw It Right
Froze foods need to be thawed correctly. The best method to fend off bacteria is to thaw food in the refrigerator. Make certain that juices from thawing food do not drip into other items. Some food may be defrosted in the microwave or under running cold water. Never thaw food at room temperature, except breads or desserts which are recommended to defrost at room temperature.

Keep Hot Food Hot & Cold Food Cold
Cook food to a safe temperature to kill any bacteria. Use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of grilled meat or chicken for doneness. Beef, lamb or veal should be no less than 145�º F for medium rare. Chicken or turkey pieces are done at 170�ºF and 180�ºF for duck. Most prepared foods should reach 165�ºF to be safe. Cook in small batches and serve immediately. This way it will not be necessary to have a place to keep the food hot.

Food that is ready to eat needs to be kept hot or cold, as appropriate for each dish. Hold cold food at less than 40�ºF and hot food above 140�ºF. Any temperature between 40�ºF and 140�ºF is in the danger zone, ideal for bacteria growth.

A good way to set-up for a picnic or BBQ is to have a large, shallow container filled with ice for the dishes of food to be kept cold. Plastic storage bins which can slide under a bed are great to use as this type of salad bar. Having a small drain hole fashioned in the bottom helps to avoid floating dishes. Make sure the melting ice flows into a bucket or away from where people will walk or sit.

When in Doubt Toss It Out!
If you are not sure a food is safe to eat, don’t eat it. Some foods are shelf stable and do not require special handling and temperature control. Many condiments such as ketchup, mustard and pickles do not require careful temperature monitoring during use but should be refrigerated to extend the product life. Bread, rolls and cakes usually are okay at room temperature at any time.

Use common sense to prepare your picnic table. Plan ahead to ensure a safe trouble-free dining experience is had by your family and guests. Outdoor dining should be a fun time not a tummy ache.

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