July 3rd, 2013
It’s time to pull out that blanket and fill up a basket and cooler, and go dine al fresco. The weather is staying warm in the evening, and it’s a good time to take a vacation.
If you’re taking a road trip, a picnic lunch is a great way to see more of where you’re traveling as well as saving money.
But it’s important to pay attention to a few essentials so you don’t get food poisoning.
Also, ensure that you have lots of water, sunscreen or hats, and access to shade. Sunstroke is a rotten way to end a picnic.
- Food receives a lot of handling. Picnic foods — such as potato or macaroni salads, sandwich fillings, hamburger patties and cut watermelon — often receive a lot of handling during preparation. Handling increases the risk of contamination with harmful bacteria.
- Food is not cooled rapidly after cooking. Some common picnic foods require precooking and are prepared in large quantities. Cooked foods must be rapidly cooled by putting in shallow pans and refrigerating immediately after cooking so harmful bacteria does not grow. Warm temperatures promote bacterial growth.
- Equipment to keep hot food hot and cold food cold is usually not used and food sits out for long periods of time. Warm temperatures support the growth of harmful bacteria. The longer food is at warm temperatures, the more likely foodborne illness will result.
There are other safety considerations when planning a picnic. The first is the weather. If you have the dream picnic planned, and a lightening storm comes in, find a plan B.
Then plan your meal so that it’s portable, easy to serve and eat, sharable, delicious, and easy to clean up (sandwiches that can be assembled on location, fruit, cheese plate or raw veggies are standard fare for a reason).
Create a checklist of everything you want. By the time you’re at your destination, it will be too late to go back to get the corkscrew for the wine.
Serve finger-friendly, easy-to-prepare foods, such as sandwiches, wraps, cut fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cold fried chicken, raw veggies, crackers, chips, cookies, etc. If you’ll be picnicking on a hot day, choose a firm, low-moisture aged cheese since soft cheeses can get too runny. Aged Gouda, Cheddar, Asiago, Manchego, or Pecorino (Fiore) Sardo are good options.
For wine, a chilled rose is ideal as slightly sweet wines tend to pair well with a broader range of foods. If you prefer white, look into a well chilled Riesling. For red wines, a Pinot or Grenache would be the lightest. Try the wine out before you go.
Consider using pesto or mustard instead of mayonaise which can go badly quickly.
If you’re making cold salads, make them the day beforehand so that way all of the salad is fully chilled through to the center.
Bottled water, beer, and juices are great picnic drinks, but these are heavy items. So make sure the cooler has easy to carry handles.
You may not know but raw onions and cut melons need to be kept cold. So keep room for them in your cooler.
It’s better if you can bring along two coolers: one for drinks and one for food. This way, the food stays cooler every time someone grabs a drink.
Cold food needs to be kept at 40F or below to keep the icky stuff from growing. Did you realize the trunk of your car can reach temperatures of 150oF so it is best to transport coolers in the passenger area of the car. When you arrive at the picnic site, put a blanket over the cooler and place it in the shade to maintain cold temperatures. Keep the cooler closed until ready to use the contents.
Wait until just before you leave to put food items into the cooler.
If you have food leftover after the picnic, you’ll probably be tempted to bring it home. Think twice about this. If the food has been sitting out for over an hour, it’s probably got some nasty airborne bacteria growing in it. And if you pull out some potato salad at home that evening that had been sitting out at the picnic, you’ll probably get a nice dose of salmonella.
Would you prefer a picnic in a park, by a lake, the ocean or in the mountains? Or is there some other wonderful spot that you enjoy?