Here comes summer! And that means picnics and cookouts and all kinds of outdoor eating events.
For maximum fun with minimum pain, don't park your blanket on an anthill, do wear your sunscreen and, by all means, handle food safely.
Safe food handling means there doesn't have to be a "morning after" with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache -- symptoms that often are mistakenly labeled "sun poisoning" or "the flu."
Food poisoning happens when a small amount of bacteria is introduced into food, then finds enough time and optimal conditions for multiplying.
Bacteria grow best at temper- atures between 60 and 100 degrees. A typical summer day logs in at 80 to 95 degrees. When food sits for more than two hours on a picnic table, you can bet there's more going on than meets the eye.
The fact that you can't see, taste or smell the growing contamination adds to the risk. To be sure you enjoy both the weekend picnic and the following week, follow these simple rules:
*Keep hot food hot. Hot food should be kept at 140 degrees or higher. Chafing dishes with little candles rarely maintain this temperature. If it doesn't get eaten in two hours, throw it out.
*Keep cold food cold. Cold food should be kept at 45 degrees or lower. That's really cold. (Remember: 32 degrees is freezing.)
Tuna salad, chicken salad and egg salad (or any other salads that contain meat, fish, chicken, turkey or eggs) should be made the night before your outing, spread in a shallow container and chilled in the refrigerator overnight.
Freeze hamburger patties overnight.
Chicken for grilling should be washed, partially cooked and chilled overnight.
Remember, the bottom of your cooler is the coldest spot. Pack very perishable items in the bottom with ice packs on top of them. Leave the cooler tightly covered at all times. Remove items only when you're ready to cook or serve them.
*Keep everything clean. Even the healthiest among us carry bacteria at all times. The best protection is to wash thoroughly before handling food, whether at home or at play.
Make sure utensils, knives and cutting boards are clean to start with, then rewashed before any new food is prepared. This is especially important when you prepare raw meat or chicken, then vegetables or fruits that will be eaten raw.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.