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County food safety expert has tips for summer picnics

Two enjoy lunch at a picnic table in Washington's Central Park on Monday, June 29. Getting outdoors and enjoying the weather is a practice many are getting back to. Holding a picnic can be a great way to socialize and enjoy the outdoors. A local food safety expert offers tips to ensure it is done safely. (Gretchen Teske/The Union)
Two enjoy lunch at a picnic table in Washington's Central Park on Monday, June 29. Getting outdoors and enjoying the weather is a practice many are getting back to. Holding a picnic can be a great way to socialize and enjoy the outdoors. A local food safety expert offers tips to ensure it is done safely. (Gretchen Teske/The Union)
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Warmer weather is a sure sign people will be getting outside to enjoy outdoor activities. For those who have a picnic in their plans, one local expert has safety tips to keep in mind.

“If you’re packing food for a picnic, you always want to pack raw meat in a separate cooler than any other food,” said Washington County Environmental Health Director Jennine Wolf.

In the meat cooler, Wolf recommends taping a refrigerator thermometer to the top.

“That way you can keep an eye to make sure it’s 41 degrees or below,” she said, citing the recommended temperature for storing raw meat.

Timing is essential when packing, especially for meat, she said. Frozen meat can be put in the cooler to thaw, but it will take a while. If leaving at 9 a.m. but planning to eat at around noon, for example, Wolf says it’s best to let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

Meat should never thaw at room temperature because it increases the risk for the bacteria multiplying, she said. The outside will thaw before the inside, giving it more time to become contaminated.

Separating foods is a sure way to prevent cross contamination, which can cause serious health issues if not taken seriously, she said. One of the best ways to prevent cross contamination is to use different utensils for every dish including fruits, salads and other vegetables.

Temperature control is crucial for these as well, whether hot or cold, to ensure they are safe to eat.

“You want to keep your time-temperature controlled-for-safety foods at 41 (degrees) or below or 135 (degrees) or above because in between that is what we call the temperature danger zone,” she said.

Wolf said bacteria grows the fastest between 70 and 100 degrees. Leaving foods in those temperature zones can increase the risk for bacteria growth.

As long as foods have been exposed for less than two hours and are at an internal temperature of 41 degrees or below, they are safe to repack and eat later, she said. The same applies for meat.

“If you have meat that has thawed in the refrigerator or thawed elsewhere at 41 degrees or below ... you can refreeze the meat,” she said.

One last step Wolf suggests is bringing a hand-washing station. A five-gallon bucket filled with warm water and soap and paper towels nearby will do the trick and will be easy to transport for those on-the-go.

Although the days are heating up, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy eating outside and by following these safety tips, Wolf said, there will be no problem.

“Keep your hot foods hot, cold foods cold, no cross contamination and wash your hands,” she said. “Follow those four things and you hold have a pretty safe picnic.”