Now that we have officially kicked off the summer cookout season, let’s talk about ways to not only incorporate more color into your picnics but also steps you can take to ensure you’re keeping those around you safe from foodborne illness.


Appetizers


  Appetizers often set the tone of the meal, so be sure to incorporate as much color as possible. Whether you’re offering a platter of crudités, such as cucumber spears and carrot sticks, or sliced strawberries and grapes with yogurt dip, incorporating color is key for obtaining vitamins, minerals and fiber.


Food Safety Rule #1 - Honor the Clock Once fruits and vegetables are cut, their expiration date quickly speeds up. If the weather is under 90 degrees, fruits and vegetables can be left out 2 hours without refrigeration. When it’s over 90, that window drops to 1 hour. 


Tip: Only put out the amount of food you need and replenish trays as needed. Additionally, consider placing plates and bowls on ice or immersed in a cold water bath in which the ice is maintained.


Food Safety Rule #2 - Beware of Cross Contact


What happens when you place your cooked burgers on the same plate that held the raw burgers on the way to the grill? Or what about when you use the same cutting board to prep your chicken and salad toppings? The answer is the same: cross contamination. 


  Cross contact, or cross contamination, occurs when bacteria such as E. coli is present in a food like ground hamburger and transfers from the surface you are using, whether a plate or cutting board, onto foods you will consume. 


Tip: Never reuse plates, utensils, or cutting boards that come in contact with raw meat or fish. Wash your plate, utensil, or cutting board in hot, soapy water. Better yet, opt for a completely different, clean plate, utensil, or cutting board. 


Main Dishes


Continue adding color to your summer festivities by offering sides like bean salads, which incorporate different colored beans or lentils with a mixture of chopped vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and celery. Another great main course that will surely delight guests’ taste buds: grilled Portobello mushroom burgers or kabobs made with tomatoes, white button mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and zucchini.


Food Safety Rule # 3 - Keep Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold The food safety danger zone falls between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the magic zone in which bacteria love to multiply. For this reason, it’s imperative to maintain the temperature of the food when serving. 


Tip: As mentioned above, keep cold foods on ice. For hot foods, hold them in slow cookers placed on the warm setting or in chaffing dishes sitting in hot water baths above a constant flame created by chaffing fuel.


Dessert


  Step outside the usual fruit salad or strawberry shortcake and opt to grill peaches and nectarines or an aluminum foil pouch of faux bananas foster.


Food Safety Rule #4 - Wash Your Hands The number one cause of a foodborne illness is not the food in question. Individuals handling food tend to transfer bacteria like E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria from their hands onto the food we eat. 


Tip: Wash your hands properly after using the lavatory, in between touching surfaces and food, as well as working between raw meats and uncooked items like salad greens and bread. 


  Proper hand washing includes running water, soap (anti-bacterial is not necessary) and friction. Rub your hands vigorously for 20 seconds (or the amount of time to sing Happy Birthday twice), rinse and dry with a clean towel or fresh paper towel. And be sure to use the paper towel to shut off the faucet so you do not cross contaminate your hands.


  Whether you enjoy potlucks, picnics, or festive family cookouts, take the steps now to ensure you’re as safe as can be for the season ahead. If you or a loved one has ever come down with the “24-hour bug,” you learned first-hand that foodborne illness is no fun. That 24-hour bug was more than likely the result of something you ate being contaminated with a bacteria or virus. To learn more about summer food safety, visit the Food Safety section of BigY.com.


Carrie Taylor is the lead registered dietitian nutritionist for the Living Well Eating Smart program at Big Y Foods. Have a nutrition question? E-mail livingwell@bigy.com or write
Living Well at 2145 Roosevelt Ave, PO Box 7840, Springfield, 01102.