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Safe Eating Tips for Picnics and Cook-Outs This Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the kick off to summer festivities. The long weekend usually is filled with outdoor activities including parties, picnics and barbeques. To maintain the same food safety practices you use in your kitchen when eating at outdoor events, the National Food Processors Association offers the following tips:


  • Plan just the right amount of foods to take so you won’t have to worry about the storage or safety of leftovers.
  • Plan the menu with an eye to safe food handling. Do not use recipes that contain raw eggs, such as cream pies or homemade ice cream.
  • Since hand washing is critical to prevent the spread of bacteria, choose a picnic location with facilities for washing. If no facilities are available, pack disposable towelettes.
  • Pre-cook foods in plenty of time to thoroughly chill them in the refrigerator. Then use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees Fahreinheit. Pack food directly from the refrigerator into your cooler. Make sure you read and follow label instructions to “keep refrigerated” or “use by” a certain date.
  • If you’re planning on eating take-out foods such as fried chicken, eat them within two hours of pick up, or buy ahead of time and chill before putting into the cooler.
  • Don’t put the cooler in the trunk; carry it inside the air-conditioned car. Use a separate cooler for drinks so the one containing perishable food won’t be constantly opened or closed. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade, and replenish the ice if it melts.
  • When marinating raw meat, fish or poultry, do so in the refrigerator — not on the counter. Don’t reuse the marinade from raw meat unless you boil it for several minutes to destroy any bacteria from the raw meat.
  • For safety and quality, the coals in your grill should be very hot before cooking food. For optimal heat, let the coals heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are gray.
  • When handling raw meat, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit on the grill.
  • Do not interrupt cooking, as partial cooking may encourage bacterial growth. If you must cook ahead, cook the meat completely and then cool it fast for reheating on the grill later. Reheat pre-cooked meats until steaming hot.
  • Do not partially grill extra hamburgers to use later. Once you begin cooking hamburgers, cook them until completely done to assure that bacteria are destroyed.
  • It’s always a good idea to take an “exploratory” cut into patties, poultry, meat or fish to check doneness. On the grill, the outside of foods may look done before they are cooked through. To be sure bacteria are destroyed, cook hamburgers to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a meat thermometer to check the inner temperature of the food. Cut into the pattie to be sure the center is no longer pink and the juices run clear. Grill raw poultry until the juices run clear and there is no pink close to the bone. And make sure to cook all ready-to-eat-meats thoroughly.
  • When taking foods off the grill, do not put the cooked items on the same platter which held the raw meat. That can cause cross contamination where the cooked food picks up harmful microorganisms left on the plate from the raw meat. Use separate, clean utensils and wash your hands frequently.
  • Perishable leftovers should be refrigerated or stored on ice within two hours of cooking.
  • For the return trip, the cooler should again travel in the air-conditioned part of the car. Check the cooler when you get home. If there still is ice in the cooler and the food is refrigerator-cool to the touch, the leftovers should be safe to eat.

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