August 2, 1999
How to have a safe picnic
Picnics are supposed to be relaxed, happy occasions with good food, family and friends, a ball game, and maybe a snooze in the sun. But pesky organisms can ruin a festive barbecue or picnic by causing abdominal cramps, nausea, or diarrhea.
Group Health Cooperative offers these tips for making sure your family and friends enjoy safe picnic eating:
- Eat first and play later. The longer food sits out before being eaten, the greater the chance that food can become hazardous.
- Make sure to wash all fruits and vegetables, even if you don't plan on eating them outside. Bacteria on the skin or rind of a fruit or vegetable can be spread to the inside when it is cut.
- Invest in a cooler, and always use it. Put ice on top of the food to deep it chilled. Since cold air sinks, putting ice only at the bottom could jeopardize food near the lid.
- Keep the cooler in a shady spot. This helps keep the temperature inside the cooler as cold as possible for as long as possible.
- Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter top or in the trunk of the car at the picnic. Food can easily become dangerous as a result of incorrect thawing procedures.
- Bring the right equipment to deal with raw foods. Use plastic bags with a secure zipper-type lock, and have plenty of pre-moistened towelettes to clean hands after handling raw food. Raw meat or poultry should be rinsed at home and transported in plastic bags. Be careful of cross-contamination of foods. Don't put cooked foods on platters or plates that have previously held raw meats or poultry, and don't use utensils that have been in contact with these raw foods. And cook that meat thoroughly, until juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink.
- Limit the time food sits out at a picnic to one half hour or less--especially if the weather is hot. Most people think food is safe sitting out for two hours, but in hot weather, it isn't, even in the shade.
- Keep potato salads and other products with mayonnaise refrigerated as long as possible. Some people mistakenly believe that adding the mayonnaise right before serving will protect the salad. But the mayonnaise can actually retard the growth of some organisms. The key is to refrigerate the salad after it is made, and keep it chilled.
- Keep all foods, even cut fruits and vegetables, chilled for as long as possible. Once the surfaces of fruits and vegetables are exposed to the air, contamination can occur.
- Check baked goods. Butter cream or whipped cream frostings can spoil, so watch that these baked goods aren't left out in the sun.
- Drink lots of water at picnics. Caffeinated soft drinks are dehydrating, as are alcoholic beverages. Parents should make sure young children are drinking enough water.
- As a general rule of thumb, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
Signs of food poisoning
Symptoms of food poisoning can include intestinal upset, cramps, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, or vomiting. Some of these problems can lead to further dehydration and can become life-threatening. If you think you have food poisoning, call your doctor and think about whether you might have eaten contaminated foods in the past day or so. Above all, drink eight ounces of clear fluids every half-hour to combat dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting.