Picnic season is upon us. A time where people gather together in big groups or small, intimate luncheons to eat outside and enjoy the parks and nature around us. Sounds great, right? But whether you are planning a romantic meal for two or a rent-out-the-park style dinner for all the extended relatives, here’s some foods to watch out for and some tips to make sure your meal goes off without a hitch.
Fried chicken needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees in order to kill off the bacteria (e.g., salmonella) that may be lurking inside the juicy goodness. And once the chicken is cooked, it should be stored properly so any remaining bacteria doesn’t grow quickly. Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees or greater, while cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or less.
Then there’s the general health concerns about eating fried foods. Fried foods have been linked to an increase in obesity, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. The foods are cooked in oils and have higher fat and calorie contents than those that are baked.
A better option might be roasted chicken. Not only is it healthier, but it is easier to keep either warm or cold, and tastes great either way! Cut up the chicken and wrap it in aluminum foil – then, you can either keep it hot by placing it at the edge of a grill, or keep it cold by placing it in a cooler filled with ice.
Potato and Pasta Salads
Many types of potato and pasta salad are made with mayonnaise, which can cause problems if it is not handled properly.
Commercial mayonnaise is typically made with pasteurized eggs, preservatives, and acids to prevent bacteria growth, but refrigeration is still highly recommended. If homemade mayonnaise is used, this could be more dangerous. Homemade mayonnaise is generally made with raw eggs that could be loaded with salmonella, and hot temperatures (but still below 140 degrees) can make matters all the worse. Keeping potato salads at a cool enough temperature to keep it from becoming dangerous is difficult to do in the summer heat.
Also, it is easy to forget the added calorie count of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise has a high fat content and that increases the calorie count quickly. If doing a pasta salad, consider using an oil-based vinaigrette dressing, which will have fewer calories and will be less likely to spoil.
A better alternative would be cold Greek pasta salad, which uses vinegar and olive oil, or a veggie-based salad such as cucumbers and tomatoes or corn and radishes, tossed in a light vinaigrette.
Sandwiches, Wraps, and Roll-ups
Sandwiches, wraps, and roll-ups seem like natural additions to any picnic. They are easy and very portable. But the meats, veggies, cheeses, and dressings for the sandwiches should be kept chilled, especially if it is a hot day. These items will only be safe for about an hour if the weather is 90 degrees outside. Beyond that, the bacteria can quickly accumulate.
Also, you might consider going with cured meats on sandwiches, such as pepperoni or salami, as they are less likely to spoil quickly. If looking for a leaner meat, try shredded chicken, which can easily be kept in a cooler using an air-tight baggie or plastic dish.
Deviled Eggs and Egg Salad
The basis of both deviled eggs and egg salad is, obviously, eggs – and also mayonnaise. We already talked about how mayonnaise could be bad for you, primarily because of the egg content in them. Adding mayonnaise to eggs and then keeping it out in the sun for awhile seems to be even less of a good idea.
If you absolutely, without a doubt need to have deviled eggs or egg salad at your picnic, make sure the eggs are fully cooked, cool them overnight in the refrigerator at home, and then make sure they are packed in a cooler with plenty of ice packs until it’s time to eat them. Never leave deviled eggs or egg salad out on a table (especially in the sun!) for an extended period of time.
Burgers and Brats
If you’re bringing hamburgers and bratwursts to the party, it’s critical to make sure they are cooked properly. If you are bringing raw burgers to cook on a grill, it’s just as important to make sure the meat is kept in a cool container until it’s time to fire up the grill.
When it is time to flamebroil your patties or links, make sure you heat them through thoroughly. Undercooked meats, such as brats and burgers, are dangerous. They can carry bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. Cook meats to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to kill off bacteria. Keep hot meats hot at 140 degrees, and cold meats cold at less than 40 degrees before and after cooking to keep bacteria at bay.
And those dishes and utensils you’re using? Watch out for cross contamination between raw and cooked meats. Don’t take the cooked meat off the grill and put it on the same plate the uncooked meat was on! That could be a recipe for disaster.
Fruit and Veggies
Fruit and picnics are naturally paired, right? After all, fruit grows in the summer and picnics happen in the summer. But fruits and veggies also bring insects to the picnic. Insects are generally attracted to bright colors and sweet scents. So while you think those berries and oranges look great, just remember – the insects do too.
Since some insects carry disease and like to bite humans, deterring them is probably a good idea. To keep insects from ruining your picnic, keep your fruit in containers or otherwise covered (except while you’re eating it, of course).
And don’t forget to wash your fruits and veggies before eating them (or letting others eat them)! Even when peeled, contaminants could still linger and be absorbed by your body, leading to sickness or allergic reactions. So be safe rather than sorry and make sure you at least rinse them off.
Fish and Shrimp
Fresh and light, fish and shrimp can go with any picnic. But one bad batch of seafood can also turn an otherwise great day into a miserable experience. As with other foods, keep cold fish and shrimp below 40 degrees, and hot seafood above 140 degrees, to make sure harmful bacteria doesn’t grow.
If you do bring fish and shrimp out for a picnic or barbecue, the best option is to keep it packed in plenty of ice, and then cook it up on a grill once you get there.
Stay Safe at Your Next Picnic
Picnics are a great way to enjoy the outdoors time with family and friends, so long as you follow some basic guidelines to keep your family, friends, and everyone who attends safe:
- Always cook meats thoroughly.
- Keep cold foods below 40 degrees and hot foods above 140 degrees.
- Avoid things with eggs, mayonnaise, or other things that could easily spoil.
- Cover food when it’s not being eaten.
Keeping these things in mind will help ensure that you have a healthy, and happy, time all summer long!