Take our picnic safety quiz

This article was originally published in June 2014


You may be surprised to learn what you
need to do to keep food safe next time you’re
packing for a picnic or other outdoor excursion!

1. When carrying cold foods in a cooler to a picnic, you should put the meat you’re going to grill:

a) on the top next to the ice pack
b) on the bottom
c) in the middle surrounded by cold fruit and vegetables
d) none of the above
Answer: b) on the bottom. Raw meat, poultry or fish never should be put above foods that will not be cooked, such as salads, raw fruit and vegetables, or prepared foods. Whether in your refrigerator or in the cooler, keep them on the bottom where their juices cannot drip into other foods.

2. On a hot day, cold foods taken from the cooler should be:

a) returned to the cooler after no more than one hour
b) kept in the shade
c) reheated when you get home
d) considered safe if refrigerated within four hours
Answer: a) returned to the cooler after no more than one hour. While it’s considered safe to keep foods at room temperature for up to two hours, hot summer temperatures will quicken the pace of bacterial growth and put food at risk within one hour.

3. Melons cut ahead of time for a picnic:

a) should be scrubbed before cutting
b) need to be kept cold
c) have the potential to cause foodborne illness
d) all of the above
Answer: d) all of the above. Melons have the potential to cause foodborne illness because their centers are sweet and welcoming to the growth of bacteria. They should be scrubbed before cutting to eliminate the bacteria that naturally collect on them while growing and then refrigerated until consuming.

4. Cut tomatoes are:

a) not at risk of causing foodborne illness
b) can be assumed to be acidic enough to kill bacteria
c) must be refrigerated and treated as potentially dangerous
d) should not be carried on a picnic
Answer: c) must be refrigerated and treated as potentially dangerous. Modern tomatoes no longer can be considered safe to eat because of their natural acidity. Many varieties are not acidic enough and some strains of bacteria are resistant to acid. Treat cut tomatoes as potentially dangerous and keep them refrigerated.

5. Partly cooking meats ahead of time and finishing them on the grill:

a) is a good way to ensure foods are cooked sufficiently
b) can encourage the growth of bacteria during the interim
c) is recommended by USDA as a best practice when going on a picnic
d) ensures the safety of the food
Answer: b) can encourage the growth of bacteria during the interim. Never cook meats or any food with the intent of finishing the cooking at a later time. Cook foods thoroughly with one continuous application of heat to ensure destruction of bacteria and viruses.

6. The most common cause of foodborne illness in summer salads is:

a) insufficient mixing of ingredients
b) mayonnaise
c) flies and ants
d) improper handling of protein-based ingredients (eggs, pasta,shrimp, etc.)
Answer: d) improper handling of protein-based ingredients (eggs, pasta, shrimp, etc.). It’s a common misconception that mayonnaise is the cause of foodborne illness from summer salads. Commercial mayonnaise is too acidic to support the growth of bacteria. It’s the protein source — eggs, pasta, shrimp, chicken, tuna or cooked vegetables — that must be protected by prompt refrigeration. Refrigerate all ingredients before mixing together to ensure proper temperature control throughout preparation and storage.

7. Marinade from poultry, meat or fish can be used to baste the grilled product if:

a) the marinade has remained at refrigerator temperatures
b) it has been brought to a boil after the poultry, meat or fish was removed
c) the grilled poultry, meat or fish will be eaten immediately
d) the marinade contains an acid ingredient
Answer: b) Marinade that has held raw poultry, meat or fish should not be used to baste grilling foods, nor should it be used as a sauce at the table unless it first has been brought to a rolling boil.


8. Cold beverages for a picnic should be kept in a separate cooler from foods that need to remain cold before serving:

a) to avoid cross-contamination from the beverages
b) to prevent unnecessary warming of the foods due to frequent opening and closing
c) to protect the food from ants drawn to the sticky beverages
d) to keep the beverages from freezing

Reprinted with permission from the Co-op Food Stores in Hanover, N.H.
Answer: b) to prevent unnecessary warming of the foods due to frequent opening and closing of the cooler.

Also in this issue

Coal trains

Few environmental issues have raised local fervor as much as the coal trains planned for the Pacific Northwest. Opponents warn that shipping coal through the Northwest will reduce our air and water quality, affecting public health, as well as rivers and wildlife — including salmon habitat — along the shipping routes.

News bites, June 2014

Organic solutions for livestock, Oil spills deform fish, France bans GE corn, and more

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Learn about the shortage of hard cider apples, why prices for limes are sky-high, grants for young farmers, and how chickens are the latest therapy animals, providing companionship for the elderly in nursing homes.