Q & A Library
Perils of Picnics?
Last July fourth we had a picnic and several people got sick, apparently from spoiled food. Any food suggestions for safe, healthy picnics?
Answer (Published 7/3/2003)
The combination of hot weather and lack of refrigeration can turn a holiday picnic into a miserable memory. Because bacteria (usually salmonella, E. coli, or staphylococcus aureus) multiply quickly when food is unrefrigerated, keep all cooked food or food you plan to cook in an insulated cooler with enough ice to hold it at 40 degrees F.
Be particularly careful of salads containing potatoes, eggs, pasta, meat or fish that are combined with mayonnaise. These foods are an ideal medium for the growth of bacteria that can make you very sick with nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache. The mayo itself usually isn't the problem - commercially produced mayonnaise is made with pasteurized eggs and contains vinegar and lemon juice that provide enough acidity to discourage bacterial growth. However, potatoes, pasta, meat and fish can reduce the acidity and encourage germs to grow in the mixture. And, of course, when mayo is homemade with fresh eggs, you can run into even more trouble. In any event, thoroughly chill all salad ingredients (including mayo) before you combine them, and keep the salads on ice or in the cooler at 40 degrees F. After serving, don't leave salads on the picnic table - return them to the cooler immediately.
Here are some other food safety tips:
You can have a healthier cookout if you avoid meat, and grill fish and lots of vegetables instead. But all the rules of safe food handling apply to whatever is on the menu.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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