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Posted June 3, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Pack a picnic: A safe outdoor summer meal is possible with precautions
By Jessica Wiant -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer cookouts and picnics don't have to ruin your diet -- or your health -- when you follow some rules of nutrition and food safety.
Valley Health dietitian Sara Kuykendall says outdoor entertaining adds another element to preparing and eating food safely, namely adding some time in between when food is stored, prepared and eaten.
Staying healthy and safe is a matter of making smart food choices and following the four basic elements of avoiding foodborne illnesses -- basic food safety we should be practicing anyway, she says.
For picking better foods, Kuykendall says it's a must to plan crisp, crunchy vegetables into the menu, whether you grill them or include them in a salad.
"And don't forget fruit," she says, which can serve as a dessert item.
The best choices are fruit and vegetables from a local source, she adds.
"Always local. Whatever is local and fresh is always best," she says.
For protein, choose lean poultry or other meat, or include beans in salads. And a 3-ounce serving is all you need in a meal, she says.
Couscous, quinoa and whole-grain pasta as part of a salad are ways to incorporate whole grains.
When safety is concerned, the first set of rules concern keeping things clean.
The best way to control germs is by washing hands frequently, Kuykendall says.
It's also important to clean the utensils that will touch your food, and to clean the grill after each use.
Cooking food properly is also one of the four elements of food safety, according to Kuykendall.
Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. From 41 to 140 degrees is the "danger zone" for foods, she says.
"Germs just love to have their picnic. We definitely don't want to invite them," she says.
First off, she says, don't cook meat partially to finish later.
Just as important is to cook meat to the right temperature, she says:
After food is cooked, keep it above 140 degrees up until it's eaten, she says. And take any guesswork out of the picture by having an accurate thermometer at the ready, even on picnics.
A third aspect to food safety is being careful not to cross-contaminate foods, Kuykendall says.
Keep raw food separate from cooked food, even using separate utensils for different dishes.
Keep marinade separate from what you baste with, since raw meat will have been in contact with the marinade.
Use separate plates for raw food and food once it has been cooked, too, she says.
Lots of ice packs and ice are a vital ingredient to any safe cookout or picnic, according to Kuykendall.
It's always important to keep cold food cold -- and all perishable food cold for storage.
"On a hot day, somebody may have to go for an ice run," she says.
Some other rules regarding the fourth element of food safety include thawing food in the refrigerator -- not on the counter -- and keeping marinating meat refrigerated, too.
Refrigerators should stay at 40 degrees or below, and freezers at 0 degrees or below, she says.
Anything perishable, from raw meat to eggs and poultry should never be left out more than a total of two hours, or one hour on a hot day, she says.
When there is a large mound of leftover food, it should be separated into smaller containers to chill so that it gets cool quickly enough, she says.
If you're going on a trip with your food, pack it into coolers in the order it will be used, so the last food eaten will stay chilled until you're ready for it.
Don't let foods swim around in melted ice -- water won't keep food cold enough, and it could also lead to cross-contamination.
"When in doubt, throw it out," Kuykendall says, and transfer foods in the air-conditioned part of your vehicle, not in the hot trunk, she adds.
Kuykendall will host a free class on "Safe Summer Picnic Nutrition" at the Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center in Winchester from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on June 10. Registration, which is required, is available by calling 536-3050 or 800-662-7831
The class will be offered at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital in Woodstock on June 12 at 11:30 a.m. Registration, which is required, is available by calling 536-3050 or 800-662-7831.
The class will also be offered at 1:30 p.m. on June 12 at the Warren Memorial Hospital Outpatient Center Conference Room. Registration, which is required, is available by calling 800-662-7831.
Foodborne illness facts
-- Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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