Be Picky About Your Picnic Food

Summer is a great time for all things outdoors, including picnics. However, food left out too long can mean foodborne illnesses. Keeping cold food cold and hot food hot, indoors and out, is critical for preventing bacterial growth in food, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Do not let your picnic food remain in the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees — for more than two hours, or one hour if outdoor temperatures are 90 degrees or above. This is when bacteria in food can multiply rapidly and lead to foodborne illness, according to the FDA.

The FDA’s tips include the following for cold food:

Cold perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 40 degrees or below until serving time.
• After you serve it, do not let it sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees. If it does sit out that long, discard it.
• Foods such as chicken salad and desserts in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

The following should be observed for hot food:

Hot food should be kept hot at 140 degrees or above.
• Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container until serving.
• Just as with cold food, hot food should not sit out for more than two hours, or one hour at temperatures above 90 degrees. If food is left out longer, throw it away.

The FDA also offers four simple tips for safe food handling:
1. CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often.
2. SEPARATE: Keep raw meat away from other food.
3. COOK: Cook food to the right temperature; color and texture are unreliable indicators.
4. CHILL: Refrigerate food promptly.

As you plan or attend picnics this summer, take steps to avoid foodborne illness. When eating outdoors, safe food handling is critical since bacteria can multiply rapidly as food heats up in summer temperatures.