Packing Safely: How Can I Safely Pack and Carry a Picnic?

Now that summer picnic season is in full swing, I have had several requests for information on safely packing and carrying foods. Whether you are driving miles to a park or the beach or going next door for supper on the deck, the heat is on and you need to keep perishables cool. Here are some food safety tips for a perfect outdoor occasion. For more information on summer food safety call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (674-6854), or go to their web site.

Get Ready: Plan your menu around foods that are not highly perishable. Clean several coolers and put a supply of cold packs or ice in the freezer. Prepare all foods several hours in advance so they can be thoroughly chilled before packing. Be sure to include bottled water and wet cloths or disposable wipes for cleaning hands and surfaces. Pack a thermometer, if you are grilling meat or poultry.

Get Set: Pack all perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into a cooler with ice or freezer packs just before leaving. If you are carrying meat to grill, do not partially cook it in advance. Be sure to keep it in a separate container from the ready-to-eat foods. It is also a good idea to keep drinks in a separate cooler so that the one with the food in it isn’t opened frequently.

Go: Put the coolers in the air-conditioned interior of the car not in the trunk and try to limit the number of times they are opened. When you arrive, find the coolest possible spot for the coolers and cover them with a light-colored blanket to reflect the heat. Don’t unpack the food until everyone is ready to eat. Always wash any plates, utensils, and cutting boards that have been in contact with raw meat or poultry before using them again for cooked food. Don’t save leftovers. Food that has been sitting out for 2 hours or more is not safe; if the temperature is above 90°F reduce that to 1 hour.

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