By Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, and Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD
Department of Nutritional Science, Pennsylvania State University
Summer eating can be enjoyable with fresh seasonal produce, outdoor eating, and family get-togethers. These gatherings typically include food, and maintaining food safety during the summertime can be a challenge. Due to warmer temperatures, bacteria that can cause food poisoning grow more rapidly than in cooler months. Preparing and eating food outdoors can also be difficult since refrigeration and places to wash hands are less readily accessible. While safe food handling rules should always apply, there are extra precautions you can take to prepare and keep food safe in the summer.
Always wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 secs. before and after handling food. If no running water is available, take some disposable wet hand wipes or waterless antibacterial hand sanitizer as an alternative.
Rinsing fruits and vegetables is as simple as running tap water over them, but without access to running water this can be difficult. Washing your food before packing it in your picnic basket will ensure that the food is clean even if your picnic site or camp site does not have running water.
During grilling season it can be more difficult to avoid cross-contamination because there is often less access to clean surfaces and dishes. When raw meat or raw seafood goes on the grill, don't put it back on the same plate you brought it out on. Have an extra plate on hand, or else thoroughly wash all plates, dishes, surfaces and utensils that have touched the raw meat or raw seafood with hot, soapy water before using these for the cooked meat or seafood.
Cross-contamination can also occur when traveling when raw meat, seafood and poultry are not wrapped properly. Carefully wrap food and place it in a separate cooler (or at the bottom of the cooler) to prevent any raw juices from leaking and contaminating other foods.
If you are going to marinate your meat or seafood, always marinate it in the refrigerator. If you plan to use part of the marinade as a sauce or a dip, reserve a portion of the unused marinade for the sauce or dip.
Do not cut your meat, seafood or poultry open to determine its readiness. Instead, use a food thermometer. There are several types of food thermometers on the market that will help you determine when meat, seafood or poultry is thoroughly cooked. The USDA has a safe cooking temperature chart on their website.
While it may be convenient and save time to partially cook food the day before and finish cooking it at the picnic or camp site, it is not safe. Food may seem cooked but the internal temperature may not have reached a point high enough to kill off harmful bacteria. To save time, consider cooking food completely the day before and then reheating it at your destination.
Put perishable foods back in the cooler or refrigerator as soon as you finish eating. Do not leave foods out while you go for a swim or a hike, or so you can snack on them later in the afternoon. Follow the two hour rule: food should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours.
Follow these additional rules to slow down the growth of harmful bacteria:
-Keep coolers out of direct sunlight
-Use separate coolers for food and beverages. On a hot summer day, the beverage cooler will likely be opened more frequently, and thus exposed to warmer temperatures that could affect the food unless it is placed in a separate cooler
-Nestle bowls of summer salads in larger bowls of ice to direct cooling and insulate the salad
-Full coolers tend to stay cold longer. If your cooler has empty space, fill it with ice
-If travelling by car to your picnic or campsite, do not store your cooler in your trunk. The temperature is typically lower in the passenger area.
The arrival of summer often brings farmers markets to local communities. Shopping at a farmers market is a great way to meet local farmers and get fresh, flavorful produce. Visit your local farmers market for a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits that you can use in the recipes below!
Grilled Vegetable Salad
Grilled Stone Fruit Antipasto Plate