Barbecues and picnics are great fun, gathering with friends and family to relax and enjoy conversation and good food while spending time outdoors. The only problem is that coolers and insulated bags notwithstanding, most parks and backyards don’t come equipped with refrigerators, and that means these gatherings may come with a higher risk of food poisoning, contributing to the 48 million cases in the United States each year.
If you want to enjoy a barbecue or picnic but want to steer clear of potential food borne illnesses, you’ll need to be smart about what you serve and take appropriate storage and cooking precautions. Though you can never eliminate all risk, minding these 4 guidelines can help keep everyone healthy.
Keep It In The Cooler
While we typically think that food looks nicer when plated and set out to be served, but on a warm day, this can be a recipe for disaster. Bacteria thrive between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit – essentially when sitting out at room temperature – so consider keeping all your cold dishes in the cooler with fresh ice throughout your gathering. It may be less appealing, but by keeping the food cold, you’ll prevent e. coli and other microbes from multiplying.
Refuse To Go Rare
There’s someone at every barbecue who wants a rare burger or piece of steak, but as a host, resist their requests in the name of food safety. Don’t hesitate to tell your guests that you’ll be cooking all meat to the minimum safe temperature – 165 degrees for poultry, 160 for ground beef and pork.Rare meat fanatics may not be pleased, but they’ll be even less pleased if they developed food poisoning from eating improperly prepared meat.
Many home cooks resist using meat thermometers when grilling, thinking that they can gauge the doneness of their food just by looking at it, but even many professional chefs aren’t that talented. Check your meat temperatures before serving, or you may end up serving undercooked food and always be aware that meat can oxidize and brown without being fully cooked. Color isn’t a good indicator of safety.
Barbecues and picnics are not great times to experiment with new dishes, especially if you feel uncertain about how those foods may keep in a cooler or at room temperature. Instead, wow your guests with safe but smart treats like cocktails and mocktails. Serving delicious drinks is a great way to liven up a simple menu, and you don’t have to worry that they’ll go bad and make people sick.
Food safety should always be a top priority when hosting guests, whether at home or while barbecuing in a park. And if you’re uncertain about whether or not a dish can stand up to being served outside, skip it. There are plenty of delicious picnic options that won’t go bad on a warm day, so whip up one of those instead.