Take precautions for picnics, cookouts | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Take precautions for picnics, cookouts

Rhonda Beckham

One of my favorite summer activities is to eat outdoors because it’s so casual and relaxing. The warm sun on my back, cool breezes and all the great music the birds, boats and children provide.

Whether you are headed to the beach or your backyard grill, there are a few important precautions to take to prevent foodborne illness from ruining your outdoor dining experience.

— Wash your hands often. When preparing a variety of foods at the same time, it is important not to pass bacteria from one food to another with your hands. Washing your hands with warm soapy water for at least 15 seconds before preparing food and after handling raw meat will significantly lower the risk of foodborne illness.

— Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate. Cross contamination occurs when juices from raw meat accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Make sure to use separate cutting boards – one for raw meat, the other for fruits and vegetables.

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— Make mine well done. Whether you like your steak rare or not, it is important to cook large cuts of meat thoroughly. It is OK to have pink in the center, but make sure the outside is cooked to a dark brown.

When barbecuing poultry or seafood, always make sure the meat is cooked throughout. Use a meat thermometer to check the proper cooked temperature of the foods you are preparing.

— Never use the same plate twice. Plates that have had raw meats on them should always be washed immediately. Never use the same plate once the meat has been cooked.

— Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Particularly when you’re enjoying an afternoon picnic in the sun, it is critical cold foods such as potato salad stay chilled throughout the day. Hot foods, like steak, chicken or hot dogs should be kept in foil to retain heat. At the end of the day, make sure to promptly refrigerate all the leftovers. This will help reduce the growth of bacteria in the food.

— Keep melons out of the danger zone. Melons can pose a risk for foodborne illness if not prepared or stored properly. Before cutting into a melon, thoroughly wash the outer surface with water to remove surface dirt even if it looks clean.

Once a melon has been cut, it must be kept chilled on ice or refrigerated at 45 degrees or lower. Cut melons can be served without refrigeration for a maximum of four hours.

— “Safety on the side.” Never keep side dishes prepared with mayonnaise or ones considered high in protein out for longer than two hours. Bacteria can multiply in moist foods, including salads and desserts. Keep cold side dishes chilled and away from the sun at all times.

Swimming and playing on the beach make you ravenous, and you’re going to eat whatever you packed. So, pack wisely to ensure you keep the beach body you worked so hard to acquire.

This is a perfect time to introduce new foods to your kids because they’ll be more focused on their hunger and fun. Throw in healthy fare such as part-skim string cheese, low-fat granola bars, and single-serving bags of soy crisps, baked chips, light popcorn, 100-calorie packs and whole-wheat pretzels. Of course, fruit such as melon, berries, bananas, apples, kiwi, pineapple and grapes are always a hit. Plus, you get the much needed hydration to your body from the high water content in these foods.

Mini-carrots, cut celery, sliced zucchini and sweet potato sticks packed with a side of peanut butter for dipping are wholesome and fun. Skip the sodas and sugary fruit juice blends and replace them with bottles of water. Several flavored varieties exist.

Learn about the importance of staying hydrated and how to do so in next week’s column.

– Rhonda Beckham is a nationally certified personal trainer, with teaching certificates in Pilates and kickboxing.

She is owner of Help Me Rhonda and Perfect Pilates, a Pilates instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra Athletic Club, as well as a personal trainer operating out of Sierra Athletic Club and the Tahoe Keys Marina Dance Studio. She may be reached at (530) 208-6369, http://www.tahoetrainer.com and rhonda@tahoetrainer.com.

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