It's Official: August is Picnic Month

I love the official designations--partly because they are just interesting, but also because they are often a reminder to me to pass on some details about one thing or another. In this case, it's the evergreen topic of food safety, one that I get a bit... hmm... passionate about. My story, by way of explaining that passion, is that I was quite cavalier about food safety. I pushed the boundaries, until one day I pushed too far. We'd gotten some take-out barbecue pork for dinner. We ate, it got put away. All was well.

A day or two later, when no one else was home and I didn't feel like cooking for dinner, I made myself a supper of the leftover barbecue. About two hours later, I was hit with all the classic symptoms of food poisoning, and I had a miserable night. I made it through the night, entering the next day weak and dehydrated. And determined to never EVER get sick at my own hand again.

These days I watch what food is set out and perhaps most importantly, WHEN it is brought out. And I am the one to jump up to put it into refrigeration when I think it is time. And on the occasion when something gets left out a bit too long, and someone will ask me if I think it's safe to eat? My answer is, "Better safe than sorry. Pitch it. Nothing is worth getting sick over."

So that's my story and why I like to occasionally remind the readers of Laura's Lean Beef blog about food safety, in particular, picnic safety this month in honor of it being National Picnic Month.

1. When prepping foods for the picnic, make sure your work area is clean and be zealous about keeping your hands clean and not cross contaminating. Either use the color-coded cutting boards (I love this chopping board set) or keep washing your cutting board. Wash it well.

2. Wash all vegetables AND fruits to be cut, watermelon (and any other melons) included.

3. Once picnic food is prepped get it well chilled. In this case, you are better off cooking at least a day in advance so the food has time to really chill before getting packed up.

4. When packing food, make sure it is in well-sealed containers (again, avoiding cross contamination) and pack it straight into a cooler with plenty of blue ice packs or ice. Cold food should be kept at least at 40°F. Travel with coolers in the passenger part of the car, not the trunk, to help keep it cool. Once food is set out for the picnic, don't let it stay out more than one hour.

5. If you've got hot food, keep it hot. Hot food should be at least at 140°F. If you've got chili in a slow cooker, get it plugged in as soon as possible. Once hot food is served, don't let it stay out for more than one hour.

6. Use plenty of hand wipes to keep your hands clean. Use clean utensils. If using a picnic area grill, heat it to high, use some foil to rub it down and then use foil, poking through the foil to make it act as a grill grate, to know you are cooking on a clean surface.

7. Serve up enough for everyone, but aim to not have leftovers of perishable food. If you do, better to throw it away if in doubt.

8. If all this is too much, fall back on things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, carrots sticks, nuts, dried fruits and cookies for dessert. Remember, a picnic is about the friends and family you share time with. Don't make yourself crazy, but most importantly, don't make yourself sick.



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