It's a picnic. What could possibly go wrong?
(Famous last words.)
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Sorry to burst your Memorial Day Weekend bubble, but apparently, yes, an awful lot can go wrong at picnics. In fact, with the season of gingham blankets, wicker baskets, and Pinterest-inspired berry cobblers just around the corner, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released a statement to remind all of us that picnics are often the culprit behind some serious food poisoning issues. Basically, in warm weather, it's even easier for foodborne bacteria to multiply.
The good news? You can prevent those things from happening. We've culled together some of the most important tips from the FDA so that you don't have to interrupt your next outdoor gathering with a hospital trip.
Before you head outside...
If you'll be grilling, make sure you defrost all meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly before leaving the house. Simply submerge sealed packages into cold water to do so. Also, only marinade food inside the fridge; don't leave it sitting out on a countertop. Additionally, make sure you've washed all veggies and other produce before eating it—yes, even oranges and other peel-able items. Consider bringing moist toilettes for wiping down eating surfaces, too. And, okay, this last one is definitely for the overachievers among you, but you miiight want to pack a food thermometer. (Don't look at us. That one's straight from the FDA guidelines.)
As you're packing up the food...
The FDA recommends keeping your insulated food coolers at or below 40 °F. When removing items from the fridge, make sure to place them immediately into the cooler so as not to let them sit out for too long, and pack a separate cooler specifically for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. This will prevent any juices from dripping onto your other picnic snacks. *Shudders.*
If, for some reason, you happen to have three coolers on you, you can use that third one to store beverages. That way, you won't have to constantly open the cooler keeping all your food cool just so you can grab a drink.
Finally, when you're loading the coolers into your car, put them in the passenger seat row. Since there's hopefully air conditioning flowing throughout your vehicle, that area will be way cooler than the trunk.
When it's time to grill...
Reference the FDA's handy Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart while grilling, and use a thermometer to test whether meats are really "done" in accordance with the chart's recommendations. Be sure to keep all cooked meat hot (140 °F or more) until you're ready to serve them. And even once things are cooked, make sure you're watching the time and the outside temperature. The FDA warns that hot or cold food shouldn't be allowed to sit out in the so-called "Danger Zone" (that's between 40 °F and 140 °F to you) for more than 1 or 2 hours. Finally, place all cooked food onto a clean platter. Don't use the same platter you had initially used to hold any raw foods.
Phew. We don't know about you, but we're so ready to picnic after all that. Get our best recipes here.