By CARLA Y. BUSH
With summer in full swing and outdoor barbeques part of the weekly fare, an expert with University of Tennessee Extension reminds consumers that food safety can make or break an outdoor activity.
"Whether it's a picnic at the park, camping in the mountains, or living on the boat, food is often a common denominator for fun," said Janie Burney, a professor of family and consumer sciences. Burney says these simple rules can keep foodborne pathogens from ruining your summer:
- Plan ahead. If you are traveling with perishable food, place it in a cooler with ice or freezer packs.
- Pack safely. Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods such as fruit or vegetables. If the cooler is only partially filled, pack the remaining space with more ice. Keep the cooler in an air-conditioned area of your vehicle, rather than in a hot trunk. Limit the amount of times the cooler is opened.
- When outdoors, keep the cooler in a shady spot and cover it with a light-colored blanket or tarp.
- When camping, boating or picnicking, take along only the amount of food that can be used. Avoid leftovers.
- Don't drink water from streams and rivers. Bring bottled water.
- Keep hands and all utensils clean when preparing food. Use disposable towelettes to clean hands.
- When preparing food, never use the same dish for raw meats and foods that will not be cooked.
- Don't let perishable food sit out while swimming or fishing or during other activities. If the temperature is above 90 degrees F, food is not safe to sit out longer than one hour (two hours at room temperature).
Burney also reminds us that safe food habits also incorporate these simple rules:
- Frozen food should be thawed in the refrigerator.
- Do not put spoons into food after you have tasted food from that same spoon.
- Keep hot food hot, and cold foods cold.
- Encourage children to wash their hands after playing with pets, playing outside, going to the bathroom, coughing or wiping their nose and certainly before touching food.
If your outdoor fun includes grilling hamburgers, Burney recommends you play it safe by handling raw ground beef carefully. "First, be sure you keep the meat cold (40 degrees F or less) until it is cooked," she says. "Second, cook ground beef to a safe temperature of 160 degrees F so that bacteria such as E. coli are killed. E. coli can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Some infections are mild while others are life threatening. Young children, older adults and individuals with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe complications," Burney said.
"Third, when deciding when your hamburgers are cooked enough, use a thermometer. You cannot tell by the color," Burney cautions. She recommends you insert the tip of the thermometer into the side of the burgers to check that the temperature as reached 160 degrees F.
"You should also clean your hands and anything that comes in contact with the raw meat thoroughly with soap and water so that you do not cross-contaminate other foods," Burney said. She also notes that it is best not to rely solely on hand sanitizers.
In the event of a ground beef recall, return your meat to the store for an exchange or dispose of it, she said. Don't take chances-when in doubt, throw it out!
For more information, contact Carla Bush, UT Extension family and consumer sciences agent at 563-2554.