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A few precautions about food safety can ensure that your picnic is a delight.



Published: Wed, August 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A few precautions about foodsafety can ensure that yourpicnic is a delight.

By MARGARET NERY

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

According to Webster, a picnic "is an excursion or outing with food provided by members of the group and eaten in the open; a pleasant or amusingly carefree experience."

Although this definition is in part accurate, there are those who would dispute the "carefree" aspect. They are the ones who do the planning, prepare the foods, assemble the utensils, pack the baskets and make sure there is enough of everything for everyone and for every emergency.

Also disputing Webster's version are those who find sitting on a blanket on the ground less than comfortable, hate the thought of fighting off ants and other pests who somehow can't resist a free lunch, and find ending up with poison ivy or mosquito bites less than appealing.

Devotees: But then there are the aficionados, the ones who regard the ritual of packing up, hitting the road and getting back to ground zero almost irresistible.

To them, a picnic can be as simple as a sandwich for one, eaten alone during a moment of relaxation under a tree, beside a stream or in an open field. For others, a picnic is a romantic moment for two, sharing food in a shady nook, oblivious to any discomforts and to the world around them.

And then there are those who find the thought of an informal family picnic most intriguing. They can hardly wait to gather with relatives for a sort of reunion where they share an abundance of homemade foods, sample Aunt Minn's flaky-crusted, cinnamon-spiced apple pie and gorge themselves on cousin Clara's scrumptious fried chicken or on the tasty potato salad made by sister Myrtle from her secret recipe.

The basics: Although everything else many be incidental, the only real requirement for a picnic is that there be food eaten in an open space for personal enjoyment.

Omar Khayyam waxed poetic over a picnic that to him was simply "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread -- and thou." However, over time, picnics seem to have evolved from that primitive concept into classic occasions where an abundance of gourmet foods are more often catered than prepared by participants.

Regardless of where it is prepared or who does the work, experts at Good Housekeeping magazine warn that as times and foods have changed, people should be more aware of the dangers from overexposed or undercooked foods. In order to prevent outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella or other food-related illnesses, they offer the following safety tips:

*Practice good kitchen hygiene.

*Always begin with clean, fresh ingredients.

*Once a salad or sandwich is made, keep it cold until serving time.

*Picnickers should use two small coolers -- one which will be opened frequently for fruit and beverages, and one to hold the perishables.

*Chill foods thoroughly before placing in a cooler.

*Use store-bought ice packs or make packs by freezing juice boxes.

*Pack perishables next to the ice packs.

*Keep fruits and delicate veggies like lettuce away from ice to prevent bruising and freezer burn.

*Fill coolers to the top; a full cooler keeps food cold longer.

*Add ice cubes or other cold nonperishables to fill space.

*Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

*Never let picnic foods set out longer than an hour.

*If ice in coolers melts after the picnic, discard the leftover foods.

Despite the old belief that picnic items made with mayonnaise will spoil, it has been found that commercially made brands actually have a high acid content that prevents the growth of food-poisoning bacteria. The real spoilage culprits are low-acid salad ingredients and sandwich fillings, such as tuna, ham, chicken, eggs, potatoes and macaroni.

Therefore, the experts stress that no picnic food should be left out for longer than one hour, especially if it contains perishable proteins such as meats, seafood, eggs and dairy products.

Stocking up: Those who picnic on a regular basis can avoid much of the preparation hassle by keeping a variety of staples on hand to make packing the picnic basket a simple matter. The necessities should include such things as napkins, matches, utensils, tableware, blankets, towels, trash bags and possibly a medical kit and rain gear to take care of the unexpected.

So, prepare some finger-lickin' good foods, pack a basket, get out in the open and have a picnic.




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