Don't Be Sorry; Keep Picnic Foods Safe

It's picnic season. The picturesque scene of a family cookout really warms the heart, but it can do damage to the stomach if not carefully planned. It's a good idea to take precautions so we don't make ourselves sick.

First, when you are out-and-about during the summer, make the grocery store your last stop. If you leave perishable items in your car while it is hot, you increase the chances of bacteria multiplying. If you know you are going to be out for a long time, take a cooler with ice in it or bring an insulated bag for your perishables. Do not keep cold foods at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if it is hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Throw out the food if this is the case.

Second, always rinse fresh produce and wash your work areas and cooking utensils before preparing your picnic. Fruits and vegetables can pick up bacteria from dirty countertops. Taking care of this is as simple as using soap and water.

As for preparing picnic food, items such as meat and deviled eggs are best left for the day of the picnic. Your best bet is to thaw any frozen meat by putting it in the refrigerator. And remember: Do not put cooked meat back on the same plate it was on when it was raw. The raw juices can contaminate cooked food.

When preparing salads, fruit tends to get mushy or turn brown if you cut it up the night before. If it is an absolute must, squeeze lemon juice over your cut-up fruit. It helps the fruit retain its natural coloring and slows down the browning process. Remember to keep the fruit refrigerated after cutting.

Foods like macaroni and potato salad are best when made the same day, as well. To save some time, consider cooking the noodles or potatoes the night before. Keep them refrigerated and, in the morning, mix in the rest of the ingredients. The same goes for deviled eggs: Cook the eggs the day before and stick them in the fridge until the day of the cookout.

You can prepare some foods early and not have to worry about them at all. Cheese and vegetable trays are a great example. You can cut up chunks of cheese, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, peppers and whatever else you desire the night before the picnic -- just remember to keep them in the fridge to keep them fresh as well.