Nutrition: Burgers, Slaw -- and Salmonella (cont.)

  • Be cool: Keep cold foods cold. Load perishable groceries in your car, not in the hot trunk, and take them home immediately. Pack cold picnic foods in a chest filled with ice -- full coolers maintain cold temperatures longer than half-empty ones. Use one cooler for perishables and another that will be opened often for beverages.

    Get the leftovers back into the cooler as soon as possible. Bacteria can begin to grow to dangerous levels in food that sits out for over two hours at room temperature (one hour if temperatures are 90 degrees or higher). When in doubt, throw it out.

  • Turn up the heat: Cook food long enough and at high enough temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures whenever possible. Cook whole steaks and roasts to at least 145 degrees and ground meats to 160 degrees. Poultry should reach a temperature of 180 degrees in the thigh and 170 degrees in breast meat. Juices should always run clear, and hamburger and poultry should never be pink. Cook meats from start to finish at your picnic site -- partial cooking ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply.
  • Also, be wary of reheating foods that may have been contaminated. While you may be successful at killing any microorganisms that have proliferated, some bacteria (staphylococci and E. coli 0157:H7) produce heat-resistant toxins that remain behind even after the bacteria are destroyed and can cause severe diarrhea -- or worse.

    The good news, as summer arrives, is that Americans from New York to Alaska are becoming more aware of the dangers of food poisoning, and better at preventing it. The most recent CDC statistics show that food-related infections are down by 19%.

    So don't be afraid to pack up your picnic basket and celebrate summer with a glorious feast. Just be vigilant when you're handling and preparing food. Whatever you do, don't let Grandma's famous potato salad sit out on the picnic table all day. Grandma is the last person in the world who would want you to get sick.

    Originally published May 22, 2000.

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