The Idaho Statesman
May 24, 2006
Memorial Day weekend is the first three-day weekend of the summer and many people plan backyard get-togethers, family reunions and campouts.
Food-wise, the weekend kicks off the barbecue/grilling/picnicking season. Hamburgers, hot dogs, potato and macaroni salads; deviled eggs, condiments and sandwiches will hit tables in backyards and parks across the country. They’re not only the makings of an all-American feast, they’re the fixings for a potential trip to the emergency room.
According to University of Idaho Extension educator Beverly Healy, picnics and cookouts can be a real hazard in terms of food-borne illness for three reasons:
1. Picnic foods receive a lot of handling during preparation; for example, potato and macaroni salads, hamburger patties and sandwiches. Handling increases the chance of contamination from people, utensils and preparation surfaces.

2. Food that is not cooled rapidly after cooking is a hazard. Sometimes large quantities of foods are prepared for crowds. Cool pre-cooked foods such as fried chicken and chicken for salads and sandwiches rapidly by putting in shallow pans and refrigerating immediately after cooking to prevent harmful bacteria from growing.
Spread the food out in as many pans as needed so that the food is no more than 2 inches deep.
Be sure to cook foods until they’re sufficiently done. Research has shown that 67 percent of reported cases of food-borne illness are because of improper cooling.
3. Food at picnics may stand for too long at unsafe temperatures, creating conditions where bacteria can grow. The longer food is at warm temperatures, the more likely illness will result. The maximum time for leaving food at room temperature is two hours, including time for preparation, serving and eating.
If the temperature is higher than 90 degrees, discard foods after one hour. Equipment to keep “hot foods hot” and “cold foods cold” needs to be used to prevent harmful bacterial growth.
Precautions for keeping your picnic safe
Avoid preparing foods more than one day in advance of your picnic unless the food is to be frozen, Healy says. Preparing food in advance allows for more opportunities for bacteria to grow.
It’s not the mayo or is it?
“Mayonnaise is thought to be a common cause of food-borne illness; however, to some degree it is actually a preservative,” Healy says.
Mayonnaise alone is too acidic for bacteria to grow in, she says, but when combined with other foods that have gotten a lot of handling or are protein based, such as eggs or meats, bacteria can grow if the mixture is kept too warm. So you should keep all mayonnaise-based foods cold.
Wash ’em right
Cut melons can be a problem, too. Melons such as watermelon and cantaloupe can cause food- borne illness, Healy says.
For instance, bacteria such as salmonella and shigella are often present on the rind. Get ahead of the potential problem ó wash melons just before preparing and eating. But it’s best not to wash them before storage for maximum shelf life.
Most bacteria can be removed from whole melons, especially cantaloupes, by scrubbing with a clean vegetable brush under clean running water. The spaces within the netted rind on the cantaloupe trap bacteria and can make it difficult to remove.
Special fruit and vegetable washes? Not necessary, Healy says. Dish soaps or detergents are not recommended or approved for washing fruits and vegetables, Healy says. Cantaloupes are porous and can absorb detergent residues.
Here’s the best method: Blot dry melons with clean paper towels. Refrigerate any cut pieces promptly. Melons, unlike most other fruits, are not acidic and can support bacterial growth.
Cook ’em right
Meat and poultry must be cooked thoroughly to ensure that harmful bacteria are destroyed. Using an instant-read thermometer is the most accurate way to determine the doneness of meat, poultry and fish, Healy says. If you don’t have one, you can find them at supermarkets and at cookware stores. They’re available as a dial face or digital, and both register the temperature in seconds.
Just remember: These thermometers are not heat-proof and cannot be left in the meat while it cooks on the grill. Toward the end of the cooking time, insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the food, not touching bone, fat or gristle.
Thermometers work best in meats that are at least 3/4-inch thick. Allow 10 to 15 seconds for the thermometer to register.
When grilling beef steaks that are 1 1/2 inches or thicker, remove from the heat when the thermometer registers 5 degrees below the desired doneness. During the 10-minute standing time, the temperature will rise 5 degrees, Healy says, to reach that desired doneness.
USDA Recommended Internal Temperatures
ï 145 degrees: Steaks and roasts, medium rare
ï 160 degrees: medium
ï 145 degrees: fish
ï 160 degrees: pork
ï 160 degrees: ground beef
ï 165 degrees: chicken breasts
To avoid flare-ups when grilling, Healy says to trim the fat from steaks closely, leaving only a thin layer to preserve juiciness.
Another neat trick: patting steaks dry with clean paper towels will promote browning. Add salt and salty seasoning after cooking because “salt draws out moisture and inhibits browning,” Healy says.
Freeze ’em right ó homemade ice cream
I scream, you scream, we all scream for it. No matter how you scream for it, homemade ice cream is the bomb.
But watch out ó many old fashioned ice cream recipes call for raw eggs as an ingredient. That’s a no-no, Healy says.
“Because of the risk of salmonella enteritidis, USDA does not recommend using raw eggs in homemade ice creams, eggnogs, mayonnaise or recipes,” she says.
People with health problems, the very young, the elderly and pregnant women (the primary risk is to the unborn child) are particularly vulnerable to salmonella from eating raw eggs. Health problems could be a chronic illness or any condition which weakens the immune system. Therefore, “use ONLY pasteurized eggs, or egg products in recipes calling for raw eggs,” Healy says.
Since pasteurized eggs are not readily available in southwest Idaho, recipes without eggs, or recipes that are cooked and chilled before freezing are good options, she says.
Marinate ’em right
Marinades are an easy way to make your meats sing. Plus, nearly all of ’em contain some type of acidic ingredients, such as wine, vinegar, citrus juice, or other fruit juice, that helps to tenderize the surface of meats, fish, or poultry and impart flavors.
Frequently, marinades will contain olive oil or other fat to baste food as it cooks. Healy has these marinade tips:
ï Marinate only in glass, stainless or food-grade plastic so the container will not react with the acid. Turn meat occasionally to allow even exposure to the marinade.
ï Always marinate in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
ï Tender cuts of meat need only be marinated 15 minutes to two hours for flavor.
ï Less tender beef cuts should be marinated at least six hours (up to 24).
ï Meats marinated too long, may turn stringy and mushy.
ï If a marinade is to be used later for basting or served as a sauce, reserve a portion of it before adding the meat.
Marinade that has been in contact with uncooked meat must be brought to a full rolling boil before it can be used as a sauce.
ï Never save and reuse a marinade.