Summer is coming and what’s better to enjoy it than barbecues and picnics! But eating outside under the sun presents a food safety challenge. Bacteria, those small organisms that are everywhere can multiply quickly, and when it comes to food that is not really a great thing. With heat, bacteria multiplies even faster, and of course, we don’t want our outdoors parties to be spoiled by foodborne illness for a bad aftertaste. So let’s see some good tips to prevent it and enjoy the day.
What is Foodborne Illness?
Basically food poisoning, it is any illness resulting from the spoilage of food, due to pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that can contaminate it. Occurring anywhere that food is involved, foodborne illness due to bacteria is the most common cause, since it only requires food, the water contained in it, and heat to proliferate, something available plenty in barbecues and picnics in the sunny, summer days.
Anyone can suffer from this food poisoning, although people with a weaker immune system are more prone to develop it, like children and pregnant women, which may end in with severe symptoms in the worst cases. For example, it can even cause dehydration or Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which is a rare disease that primarily affects children younger than 10, which develops when people get in contact with the E. coli bacteria.
For more detailed explanations on Foodborne Illness, click here.
Practical prevention tips
So how can we prevent our food from going bad in order to enjoy a perfect barbecue/picnic? Follow these 8 easy steps for a perfect day:
Wherever you are cooking or not, prepping your food correctly is vital.
1. Wash your hands:
Basic but crucial. You have to wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food, before eating and after going to the washroom. It might not be easy if you are in a place without running water, but you can bring with you some hand disinfectant or wipes. Be sure that your hand disinfectant is effective against bacteria.
2. Keep raw ingredients separated from cooked foods:
If you are not going to stay home, it is easier to prepare most of it in advance. Use a different chopping board for the chicken, and another one for the prawns or vegetables, in order to avoid cross-contamination. Use fresh ingredients and pay attention to the expiry date! And everything not cooked has to be kept separated from the rest in different containers. If you bring marinated meat, store it separately and do not use the marinade afterwards with other meats.
3. Pack it well:
If you prepare it well but don’t pack it properly, it can end leaking and all your efforts in preparation will be ruined! You need to store your food in good hermetic containers, organizing it in a way that it’s kept steady even in the trunk of a car. The best way is to put everything in a cooler, where it will be kept fresh and tightly organized. And with all the options available nowadays on the market, you will always be able to complement your style.
4. Keep it clean:
We know you just arrived at the park and of course, you just want to talk with your friends or enjoy playing football, but pay attention to where you are putting your food! Don’t leave it under the sun, and keep it far from pets or any insects around the area. Put your cooler in a clean place, and If you still have some last minute preparation, do it in a safe area.
5. Keep it fresh:
Place your food under the shadow, never under the sun. Cooked food can’t stay longer than 2 hours at room temperature. So if you are at home just leave everything inside the fridge for as long as possible and put them back in if you are having a break. When outdoors, always use your cooler and put some ice beforehand to make sure it stays fresh longer.
6. Cook food thoroughly:
You have to cook food thoroughly in order to kill any harmful bacteria. The best option is to use a thermometer to try to get to 75C or hotter since heating foods to this temperature kills most food-poisoning bacteria. If you don’t have one, remember to cook mince, sausages, chicken or stuffed meats should not have any pink meat. For steak, chops and whole cuts of red meat, since food poisoning bacteria are mostly on the surface, you can cook them to preference.
7. Keep it hot:
When your meat is cooked but you are not yet ready to eat it, just leave it on the warm side of the barbecue. Otherwise, bacteria might join the party and in the end, we did all the previous steps to avoid it, didn’t we?
8. Use safe water:
You brought some nice fruits but forgot to wash them beforehand? Do not wash them with water that you are unsure if it is safe since it could be contaminated with bacteria. Always bring water to drink and to wash your food!
You never know what can happen, so always follow the rule “when in doubt, throw it out”. That way, you can be sure that you are going to enjoy the season of outdoor parties.