You love Aunt Myrna’s potato salad, it’s creamy goodness is a summer treat at your annual family picnic. One of these days you will convince her to share her secret ingredient. Until then you’ll make due with a big pile of it on your rickety paper plate. But wait, you’ve been here over an hour and that salad has been sitting in the sun, you sniff it cautiously … is Aunt Myrna going to kill you?
The sniff test doesn’t even work! Turns out the types of bacteria that cause food borne illness usually don’t smell or change the color of your food. So it really can be a form of Russian roulette (fork roulette?) if you just eat without precautions.
Anything that’s been left out over an hour is pretty much suspect. It might be wiser to go to the ice cream vendor than to eat anything off of a picnic table, but some foods are safer than others.
Health Magazine compiled a few options to not die of food poisoning at a picnic:
Potato salad with store bought mayo is actually safer! Who knew? The store-bought mayo has been processed and is mildly acidic which helps keep bacteria at bay. In fact, it may be safer than a green salad. That said, homemade mayo is made with raw eggs, and salmonella could be lurking so if you’re not sure, skip it.
Fruit pies are safer than cream pies. Apple, cherry or blueberry pies are great options for picnics especially since they are stored at room temperature. Avoid the cream pies which can turn more quickly.
Hot dogs are safer than hamburgers. For some reason (likely all those processed chemicals) hot dogs are more resistant to bacteria growth than hamburgers. So if you’re not sure, the hot dog will be a safer option.
Keeping Food Fresh and Safe
There are ways to keep food fresh and safe so no loved ones wind up in the hospital. Some suggestions below:
- Traveling to the picnic, the food will stay cooler in the passenger area, so keep it out of the trunk if possible.
- Ice, ice baby. Ice is your friend, bring plenty! Double up on serving dishes; fill one with ice and then nestle the dish with the food into it to help it stay cold.
- Food in the shade. The sun is not helping your picnic food at all, keep it out of the sun, preferable in the shade of a nice big tree.
- Cut watermelons just before serving. Watermelons can grow bacteria once cut, so don’t pre-cut unless you know you can keep them cool. Do clean the rind before you pack the picnic, bacteria can often live on the surface of the melon and travel to the fruit when cut.
- Don’t move utensils around and make sure they’re clean. Have plenty of tongs, serving spoons and forks and keep them separate for each dish to avoid cross-contamination. Also, make sure each utensil is clean before placing it into a dish.
- Separate coolers for drinks and food. People will be constantly reaching into the drink cooler, so keep food separate so it doesn’t get exposed to heat.
What are you favorite picnic foods? We’re a big fan of cucumber salad, and this fourth generation recipe uses vinegar which prevents bacteria growth.