By Rebecca Cline
Warm weather is the perfect time for cookouts with friends and having a picnic outside with family. While gatherings like this can be all fun and games, it won’t be so much fun if food poisoning decides to join the party. As you plan your sides to distribute or what snacks to pack, be aware that the warmer weather increases the risk of food poisoning. Make sure to plan for your picnic ahead of time with all of the essential items and safety tips!
Avoid Cross-Contamination. This is when bacteria is unintentionally spread to other surfaces, foods, or other objects and has a harmful effect. Prevent spreading bacteria by washing your hands and keeping certain utensils and cutting boards separate. For instance, designate one cutting board for produce and another for raw meat or do not use the same mixing spoon for a recipe that contains gluten and for one that needs to be gluten-free. All of these eliminate cross-contamination of bacteria and food allergens.
Mind the Correct Temperatures. Keep cold foods cold, and hot foods hot. Seems simple, right? The importance of this is to prevent any foodborne illnesses from occurring as improper storage can lead to bacterial growth. Be sure to pack your food suitably by using coolers and insulated containers, and be mindful of foods that sit out in the heat longer than an hour. You may even want to consider packing a thermometer to make sure foods are not stuck in the danger zone (a range from 40 degrees to 140 degrees where bacteria grows best).
Wash Your Hands! Playing outside and then gathering a plate of food screams, “Germs, please!” Bring moist towelettes or hand sanitizer to prevent eating or serving food with dirty hands.
Lighten Up Tips:
Choose water. The best way to beat the heat and stay hydrated is to reach for water. Forget about spending money on sugary beverages that do not have any nutritional benefits; focus on refreshing with water instead! A tip for keeping your water even colder when it is in the cooler is to fill the bottle half up with water. Freeze the half-frozen bottle and then once it is time for your outing, fill the rest of the bottle up for a chilled beverage that lasts!
Prepare leaner entrées. Instead of fatty hamburgers and hot dogs, try grilling chicken, fish, lean pork, or veggie burgers. Lower-fat proteins are tasty options that provide fewer calories. Don’t forget to go light with the condiments!
Provide healthy sides. When you think of a cookout, do you typically think of chips and pasta salads? Try opting high-fat potato chips and mayonnaise-smothered pastas for veggie chips or black bean salad. Whole wheat pita chips or fresh vegetables and hummus are also great options to have for your guests.