Who Packed the Salmonella? Preventing Picnic Pitfalls

Who Packed the Salmonella? Preventing Picnic Pitfalls

Who Packed the Salmonella? Preventing Picnic Pitfalls

Picnics, pool parties and backyard barbeques make summer fun. Naturally, good food is sure to be a big part of the fun-in-the-sun festivities. But before you get your grill on, remember this important bit of info. Hot temps boost the risk for food-borne illness.

If you’re eager to roll out the picnic blankets, fire up the fire pit or lay out a tasty poolside spread, follow these simple food prep and safety tips. They’ll help protect you and your guests from becoming ill due to contaminated food.

Keep Food Poisoning Off the Menu
  • Hold the mayo. When mayonnaise is mixed with other foods, bacteria find it the perfect place to grow when it’s warm.
  • Keep coolers cool. Refrigerated foods should stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Load your cooler with enough ice or ice packs to maintain this temperature. Foods need to be packed in ice, not just placed on top of it. Transport coolers in an air-conditioned car, not in a hot trunk. The temp in a car trunk can quickly rise up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. When you get to your picnic site, keep your cooler closed and in the shade with a blanket over it. Be sure to clean coolers thoroughly before and after use.
  • Wash your hands often. Lather up before, during and after prepping food. Kill bacteria by washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, bring disposable towels or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is one of the simplest ways to help reduce the threat of food-borne illness.
  • Stick to the one-day rule. Unless you freeze it, don’t prepare food for your outdoor get together more than one day ahead of time. Making foods in advance gives bacteria more time to grow. Cooked foods need to be cooled quickly in shallow pans. Make sure the food is no more than two inches deep. More than 67 percent of reported cases of food-borne illness are due to improper cooling.
Defrost It Cold

If you freeze and thaw deviled eggs before your party, the safest way to thaw them is in the fridge. Don’t run the risk of allowing salmonella to tag along for the ride by setting them on the counter. Remember, if you’re not sure if a dish has been out too long, it’s best to toss it and start from scratch.

Ditch the Dairy

If you want to be sure your outdoor menu won’t give bacteria a place to lurk, avoid using milk or milk-based products. A dairy-free spread is safer. Here are some common offenders to avoid outdoors:

  • Mayonnaise-based dishes such as deviled eggs and potato salad
  • Unpasteurized milk and milk products
  • Soft cheeses, such as Feta, Brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheese; and unpasteurized cheese
Timing Is Everything

What do your Grandma’s famous potato salad, your sister’s irresistible deviled eggs and your kid’s favorite tuna salad sandwich have in common? They all contain mayonnaise. Mayo is a fan-favorite dairy product made up of egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and salt. Still, it’s the dairy in these babies that puts them in the “perishable” category. These kinds of foods need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of prep or purchase. Once outside temps hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit, they must be refrigerated or frozen within one hour of prep. And sorry, but no, a bowl of ice doesn’t cut it.

These steps can help to prevent illness from bacteria, but if you experience food poisoning and need to see a doctor, remember where you go matters! Do your research about ERs versus urgent care centers now so you  know where to go in case of emergency. 

"May-yo" have a good summer!

Sources: Health and Safety,   U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2021; Can Mayonnaise Increase the Risk of Food Poisoning?,   The New York Times, 2008; Food Poisoning,   Mayo Clinic, 2022

Originally published 6/10/2016; Revised 2021, 2023