Summer food safety tips
Watch the temperature of picnic fare to avoid food poisoning. (Fotolia.com / July 16, 2013)
Whether you're spending a day at the lake, the beach, a local park, or in your own back yard, food is sure to be part of your special day. And whenever you cook and/or serve food outdoors, keep food safety in mind.
A little planning and the right tools will help make sure no one ends up with a bellyache or worse, food poisoning. Here are the basics:
1. Keep everything clean. That includes your hands, knives, cutting boards, eating utensils and preparing and cooking surfaces.
Soap and water is the best method of cleaning, but if it's not convenient, use prepackaged sanitizing towels or make up a small bucket of diluted bleach solution (2 oz. bleach to 1 gallon water) to wipe up spills or cleaning surfaces.
Make sure your hands are clean. Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If washing your hands isn't practical outdoors, use hand sanitizer each time you handle raw meat, poultry or fish.
2. Avoid cross contamination. Separate meat, poultry and fish. Package raw items in plastic bags or sealed containers so spilled juices don't contaminate 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 for different foods. Pork and beef may be cut on the same surface, but use another for chicken and one more for fish. Using pre-sliced breads, cheese or vegetables to eliminate the need for additional knives and cutting boards.
3. Make sure foods are thawed correctly. The best method to fend off bacteria is to thaw food in the refrigerator. Make sure that juices from thawing food don't drip onto 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 that are recommended to defrost at room temperature.
4. Make sure food is cooked thoroughly to kill 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 degrees F for medium rare. Chicken or turkey pieces are done at 170 degrees F, and 180 degrees F for duck. Most prepared foods should reach 165 degrees F to be safe. Cook in small batches and serve immediately.
Food that's ready to eat needs to be kept hot or cold, as appropriate for each dish. Hold cold food at less than 40 degrees F and hot food above 140 degrees F. Any temperature between 40 and 140 degrees F is in the danger zone, ideal for bacteria growth.
5. If in doubt, don't eat it. Condiments such as ketchup, mustard and pickles don't require careful temperature monitoring during use but should be refrigerated to extend product life. Bread, rolls and cakes usually are OK at room temperature any time. If something doesn't smell or look right to you, or you think it may have been sitting out too long, toss it.
In truth, these tips are applicable any day of the year, but it's easy to get in a rush and cut corners when there are lots of people lining up to eat. Take your time, plan ahead and enjoy.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. "The Kid's Doctor" TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)