Who Packed the Salmonella? Preventing Picnic Pitfalls

Picnics, barbecues and pool parties are part of what makes summer fun — but rising temperatures mean an increasing risk for food-borne illness.
Before you roll out your blankets, follow these simple steps for keeping you and your guests from becoming sick due to contaminated food:

  • Wash your hands before, while and after preparing food. Be safe by thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, bring disposable towels or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is one of the simplest ways to help reduce the threat of food-borne illness.
  • Keep coolers cool. Refrigerated foods should stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44C), so load your cooler with enough ice or ice packs to maintain this temperature. Transport coolers in an air-conditioned car, not in a hot trunk which can quickly rise up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.56C). Foods need to be packed in ice, not just in containers on top of it. When you arrive at your picnic site, keep your cooler closed and in the shade with a blanket over it. Be sure to clean coolers thoroughly before and after use.
  • Do not prepare food more than one day before your picnic unless you freeze it. Cooking foods in advance allows for more opportunities for bacteria to grow. Cooked foods need to be rapidly cooled in shallow pans, making sure the food is no more than two inches deep. More than 67 percent of reported cases of food-borne illness are due to improper cooling.
  • Hold the mayo. When mayonnaise is mixed with other foods, bacteria can grow if it is too warm.

 Timing is everything!
What do your Grandma’s famous potato salad, your sister’s irresistible deviled eggs and your kid’s favorite tuna salad sandwich have in common? They all contain mayonnaise. Mayo is a fan-favorite dairy product made up of egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and salt—that is often a base for these picnic staples. It’s the dairy in these babies that puts them in the “perishable” category. These kinds of foods, according to the Mayo Clinic (ironic, no?), need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of prep or purchase. Once those outside temps hit 90 (32.2C), though, that drops to only one hour. And sorry but no, a bowl of ice doesn’t really cut it.

Defrost it Cold
If you freeze and thaw your deviled eggs before the party, the safest way to get ‘er done is in the fridge. Don’t run the risk of allowing salmonella or staphylococcus to tag along for the ride by setting it on the counter. If you’re not sure, it’s best to toss the offending dish and start from scratch.

Ditch the Dairy
If you want to be sure you’re not at risk with these popular plates, it’s best not to muck around with milk and just do it dairy free. Here are some common offenders to avoid outdoors:

  • Mayonnaise-based dishes such as deviled eggs and potato salad
  • Unpasteurized milk and milk products
  • Soft cheeses, such as Feta, Brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheese; and unpasteurized cheese

Don’t Get Too Comfortable
According to The Journal of Food Production, contaminated salads containing the salmonella or staphylococcus bacteria showed slower growth when there was more mayo present (likely due to the acid content in some of the ingredients), but on hot days, however slow it may be, there is still growth of these bacteria when present. Don’t be fooled! It isn’t worth the risk just to have your eggs and eat them, too. If you simply have to have Sis’s deviled eggs, just stick to the dairy-free devils.

Remember, these steps can help to prevent illness from bacteria, but sometimes we don't always follow the best steps to safety. Should food poisoning occur and you need to be seen by a doctor, where you go matters! Make sure to do your research about ERs versus urgent care now, and know when it's time to be seen in case of emergency. 

"May-yo" have a good summer!

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Sources:
Food and Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture

North Carolina Cooperative Extension

NY Times: The Journal of Food Protection

Mayo Clinic

Epicurious

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