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Picnics, Cook Outs and Summer Parties— Make them Safe and Satisfying

By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN

Picnics, Cook Outs and Summer PartiesAccording to the CDC, 48 million Americans, or one in six people get sick from contaminated food. We’re more familiar with publicized culprits such as salmonella, E.Coli and Listeria, but there are several other harmful pathogens by lesser known names like Clostridium botulinum. Mishandling of food either from its source or en route is one of the more common ways a food-borne illness can rear its ugly head. When it comes to food safety, two critical words you should get to know are ‘TIME’ and ‘TEMPERATURE.’ How long something is out, how long it is cooked and to what temperature are all closely related to contributing to either killing the bacteria or feeding it. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service site has these helpful tips:

• Food is usually safe if left out for 2 hours or less, BUT when outside temperatures are above 90 °F, food should not be left out over 1 hour (especially items with creamier bases or that contain egg products like cole slaw, potato salad, cheeses, tuna fish salad etc.)

• Let frozen items unthaw properly before cooking or preparing (overnight in the refrigerator, or under cool running water)

• Be patient when cooking to ensure proper internal temperature is reached. Be sure to note that burgers may turn brown before proper temperature is reached due to the cooking method and oxidation.

Investing in a good food thermometer is highly recommended, and bringing it with you to the cookout ensures proper internal cooking temperature for grilled meats. Colder items can be a little tricky to keep track of, but keep in mind it does not take long for dangerous bacteria like E. Coli and Streptococcous to spread in the warm and moist environment and ruin a perfectly good afternoon, no matter the food. Minimum internal temperatures, measured before removing from heat include:

• 145oF- Shellfish & Fish (steaks, filets, whole)
• 145 °F- All beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts.
Allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
• 160 °F -All ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal.
• 165 °F- All Poultry

Additional Food Safety Precautions
Separate, don’t cross-contaminate. Cross-contamination happens when bacteria from one thing touches another; it can be transferred from hands, utensils, counters, etc. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness.   Here are some suggestions to avoid cross-contamination:

• Wrap raw meats securely; avoid raw meat juices from coming in contact with ready-to-eat food.

• Wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held the raw meat or poultry before using again for cooked food.

• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water for thirty seconds between preparing items (i.e.wrapping meat then cutting vegetables), before and after grilling/cooking. Or pack clean, wet, disposable washcloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces, if resources are limited.

• Change ice as soon as it begins melting

• Layer containers and prepared food with several inches of ice

• Keep coolers in coolest part of car, out of sun if possible

• Store leftovers immediately, and re-cover unused items; if there is any doubt, throw it out.

Make some healthy changes
Research continues to show the health risks of consuming processed meats, such as hot dogs; combine those nutritional disadvantages with the fact that carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) are being used to cook the meat, and you may have pause to reconsider your choices at the grill. There are glorious options for your picnic that are nutrient-rich, healthy and delicious!! More tips to increase nutrition and flavor for that summer party include:
• Try grilling pineapple, watermelon, and fruit skewers for a twist on flavoring your fruit options

• Marinate onions, peppers, and portabella mushrooms for a satisfying grilled sandwich on a whole wheat bun

• Make a mango salsa, black bean and corn salad, or Dijon dill potato salad to ramp up the antioxidants and polyphenols, plus it will add flare to over-served originals.

• Stock up on dry goods like baked chips, pretzels, dried fruit, nuts and other non-perishables

• PB & J sandwiches made with fresh strawberries and artisan bread are a classic favorite with a grown-up touch

• Hummus wraps and pinwheels made with whole-wheat tortilla shells are fun and a snap to make

• Salads and cold gazpachos make packing for a picnic easy and healthy with lots of plant-based benefits

• Pack up plenty of healthy beverages (low-sugar, minimally processed like frozen fruit in water or fresh brewed green tea), potable (drinking) water, sunscreen, and equipment for fun filled activities and enjoy a favorite summertime outing.

Mo’s Couscous Salad
– 1 Box Whole-Grain Couscous (prepare as directed), can also use bulgur
or other similar grain
– 1 can chickpeas, drained
– 1 can cannellini or navy beans, drained, slightly rinse
– 1 can sliced black olives
– 15-20 cherry tomatoes sliced in thirds
– ¾ cup fat-free feta cheese crumbles
– ½ cucumber diced in small cubes
– 2 scallions, chopped
– 1 Packet Zesty Italian Dressing (prepare as directed — or make your own seasonings with oil and vinegar)
– Pepper and fresh garlic to taste.

• Combine all ingredients when couscous is cool and toss gently.
• Serve with large romaine leaves, as garnish, or to make lettuce rolls.
• Feel free to substitute kidney beans, or add sun-dried tomatoes or pimentos instead of cherry tomatoes.

Nutrition: Serves 8; 247 calories, 6.6 g Total Fat, 2.7g Saturated fat, 0.6g Polyunsaturated fat, 1.1g Monounsaturated fat, 12mg Cholesterol, 684 mg Sodium, 329mg Potassium, Total Carbohydrates: 38 grams, Dietary fiber: 8g, Sugar: 2g; Protein: 10g; Calcium 12%, Vitamin A: 3.6%, Vitamin C: 10%, Iron: 14%;

Resources: Accessed May 25, 2016. Accessed May 25, 2016. Accessed June 2, 2016.

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