Whether you’re traveling out of town in the car or just spending the day outside at a park, it’s a safe bet that food will enter into your summer plans at some point this season. It can be as simple as packing a cooler for car trips or as complex as catering an entire backyard barbecue event, but either way, you always should keep the safety of your foods in mind when making outdoor plans. Just as we drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated and use sunscreen to avoid sunburns, it’s equally important to keep an eye on your foods when you’re having fun outdoors.
Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Whitney Roberts with the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center says this usually can be handled by simply planning ahead. “If you are traveling with perishable food, be sure to place it in a cooler with ice or freezer packs,” she said. “If you don’t have a lot of extra freezer packs, try freezing a few bottles of water and using them as makeshift ice packs instead. When it comes to drinks, consider packing them in a separate cooler so the food cooler is not being opened and closed as often. Also, if your cooler is going to be sitting outdoors for an extended period of time, try to position it in the shade, and cover it with a blanket or poncho to insulate it from the heat, preferably one that is light in color to reflect heat,” she explained.
Roberts says how you pack your foods also is important. “Always pack perishable foods such as meats, eggs and salads directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler,” Roberts explained. “Meat and poultry may be packed while they are still frozen, that way they stay colder longer. Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods that are meant to be eaten raw such as fruits. Also, remember that a full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than one that is partially filled. If the cooler is only partially filled, pack the remaining space with more ice. For long trips to the shore or the mountains, it also may be worthwhile to take along two coolers – one for the day's immediate food needs such as lunch, drinks or snacks, and another for perishable foods that will be used later in the vacation,” she said. “Also, try to limit the number of times the cooler is opened, and open and close the lid quickly when you’re getting items out to eat,” she added.
There also are some important guidelines to remember for campouts and cookouts. “It’s definitely crucial to remember not to leave food out too long,” Roberts said. “The general rule is you shouldn’t leave anything sitting out for more than two hours, but that guideline is even stricter on hotter days. If the temperature outside is above 90 degrees, never leave anything sitting out for more than an hour, and discard any foods that have been out more than two hours,” she explained. “Also, if you’re cooking meats, you might want to keep a meat thermometer handy. A lot of times, if we’re grilling, we just eyeball it and say ‘That looks done to me.’ A thermometer will help you determine how well your meats actually are being cooked. Remember, ground beef should reach at least 160 degrees before it’s considered done, while poultry should top 165 degrees before it’s ready to eat. Also, it’s important to bring along bottled water or other canned or bottled drinks, as streams and rivers usually are not safe for drinking,” Roberts added.
“When you can, you should try to pack non-perishable food items for your summer outdoor adventures,” Roberts said. “Items such as peanut butter, canned tuna, beef jerky, dried fruit and mixed nuts all are great snacks that are much easier to carry with you without having to worry about whether they’ll go bad while you’re playing, swimming or hiking,” she explained. “And, as always, washing your hands is crucial to kill germs. Remember to bring soap with you on your trips, or have some alcohol-based hand sanitizers available for everyone to use before eating. Every year, cases of food poisoning spike in the summer months, but many of them can be avoided if people stay diligent about protecting themselves and the ones they love,” she added.