Carry It Safe

Picnic Foods

It's summertime. The season's "ripe" for picnics— and foodborne illness. Keep food fit to eat in your fresh-air kitchen. Keep food clean, keep hot food hot, and keep cold food cold.

  • For perishables, use clean, insulated coolers chilled with ice or chemical cold packs. As a rule of thumb, pack your cooler with 75 percent food and 25 percent ice or frozen cold packs. Freeze cold packs at least twenty-four hours ahead so they stay cold as long as possible. Chill the cooler ahead, too. Secure the lid. Then keep the cooler closed—no peeking!
  • Store nonperishable foods in a clean picnic or laundry basket—with the heaviest foods on the bottom.

If You or Someone Else Is Choking

Perform the Heimlich Maneuver. If a victim can't talk, can't breathe, is turning blue in the face, or is clutching at his or her throat, get behind the person and wrap your arms around his or her waist. Making a fist, put the thumb side of the fist against the victim's upper abdomen, below the ribs and above the navel. Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into the victim's upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Repeat until the object is expelled. (Don't slap the victim's back. This can make matters worse.)

When you choke and no one is there to help, use the same technique as described above. You can also lean over a fixed horizontal object (a chair, a table edge, a railing), pressing your upper abdomen against the edge until the object is expelled.

Source: Courtesy of The Heimlich Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Refer to chapter 15 for choking prevention for young children.

  • Seal all foods tightly in bags, jars, or plastic containers. That keeps out moisture and bugs.
  • Pack foods already cold or frozen. Don't assume your cooler can cool foods adequately if they're packed at room temperature. Pack perishables between ice or cold packs; they'll stay cold longer.
  • Pack uncooked meat, poultry, or fish carefully— in well-sealed containers—for grilling at the picnic spot. Put them in the bottom of the cooler so any juices won't leak onto other foods. Bring a meat thermometer in your picnic basket.
  • Keep your cooler in a cool place (under a tree or a picnic table)—not in the hot trunk or in the sun.
  • Keep ice for drinks in a sealed bag. Loose ice used to chill foods and drinks isn't safe in drinks.
  • Return perishable foods to the cooler immediately after serving, and serve only the amount of food you'll eat right away. Keep the rest in the cooler.
  • For picnics nearby that will be eaten right away, consider a hot dish—covered and wrapped well. Wrap the dish in several layers of newspaper, then in an insulated container. Baked beans are a popular choice.
  • Bring premoistened towelettes to wash up after handling meat, poultry, or chicken—or any food, for that matter. Or bring soap and a bottle filled with clean water to wash your hands and cooking surfaces. Another option: a hand sanitizer, usually formulated with alcohol, which kills bacteria on your hands.
  • Be prepared to clean the grill at the picnic site— unless you bring your own clean grill. Pack a brush, soap, and perhaps water.
  • After the picnic, toss perishable leftovers. Or repack them in a cold cooler if they have been out for less than two hours (one hour at 90° F or warmer) and are clean (no flies, dirt, or improper handling).

Carried Meals and Snacks

Whether you pack it at home or buy ready-to-eat takeout foods, any time perishable foods are left at room temperature for two hours or more, there's risk for foodborne illness. That's especially true when it's stuffed in a school locker with a dirty gym bag or left on a warm windowsill at the office!

  • Order take-out food just before lunch or dinner, then eat it right away. Or keep it in the refrigerator.
  • Use a clean insulated bag or a lunch box. Tuck in a small refreezable ice pack to keep food cold. Or freeze a juice box or small plastic container of water to keep the lunch box and the food cold. Pack a hand sanitizer, too, if there's no chance for hand washing.
  • For cold beverages, refrigerate an insulated vacuum bottle ahead. Then fill it with milk or juice to carry with you. Keep juice or milk in the fridge at work.
  • For hot soups, stews, and chilis, heat an insulated container ahead. Fill it with boiling water, then let it sit for several minutes before pouring it out. Be sure the food is very hot when it's put into the container. Then keep the container closed until you eat the food.
  • Assemble your meal the night before; chill well.
  • Keep carried, perishable food in a clean, cool place—away from sunlit windowsills, radiators, or warm vehicles. If a refrigerator is available, use it.
  • Pack nonperishable foods: unopened canned soup or stew to heat up in the microwave oven at work, dried raisins or apple slices, crackers and peanut butter, boxed juice or milk, beef jerky, to name a few. For canned foods with no pop top, tuck in a can opener!
  • Discard any perishable, carried food that isn't eaten.
  • Launder your lunch bag or wash your lunch box with soapy water after every use.
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