avoid picnic food poisoningSummer is the time of year when many families enjoy an outdoor picnic.  They pack up the cooler and the picnic basket and head off for an afternoon at the park or the lake.  But nothing ruins a fun time and good memories like a bad case of food poisoning.

E. coli, salmonella, and listeria are bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses in humans. Symptoms of food poisoning can include abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Undercooked foods and foods not stored at proper temperatures are a breeding ground for these bacteria.  These types of infections can be particularly serious for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.  Remember that food spoilage is not always immediately evident by appearance or smell.

When transporting perishable foods to a picnic, they should be stored in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer packs.  Perishable foods include meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken.  In addition, keep deviled eggs and salads containing mayonnaise, such as potato or macaroni salad, in the cooler.  During the drive, the cooler should be kept in the air conditioned part of the car rather than the trunk.  Food should be kept in the cooler until ready to be used.  Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.  Do not let food sit outside the cooler for more than one hour in summer heat.  Take a separate cooler for drinks, so the food cooler is not opened so frequently.

Wash hands thoroughly before handling food.  If running water is not available, use wet wipes or hand sanitizer.  When grilling meat, be sure to cook thoroughly.  Undercooked ground beef can contain E. coli.  Use a meat thermometer to ensure the cooked beef has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.  Color does not always indicate doneness.  Meat juices should be clear, not red or pink.  To avoid contamination, never place cooked meat on the same plate that held the raw meat.  Use clean utensils for serving.  Although hot dogs are fully cooked, it’s best to reheat them before serving.

Leftover foods should be returned to the cooler.  Refrigerate them immediately after returning home.  Discard food that has become warm.  Bacteria in food can double every twenty minutes.  Better to be safe than sorry.

There are some healthy foods that are safer choices for picnics.  They include tossed salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, pickled vegetables, salsa, pasta salad without mayonnaise, whole grain crackers, and nuts or nut butters.