We often have tailgate parties before the Kansas University football games. How can we make sure that our food is safe to eat?
Good question! Uninvited guests -- potentially harmful micro-organisms -- present on food products can reproduce rapidly when left unrefrigerated so it's important to handle tailgate party foods carefully.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Plan accurately. Don't pack extra food.
- Choose foods unlikely to harbor harmful bacteria: fresh fruits, fresh vegetables such as carrot sticks; breads and rolls. Well-chilled, cooked roast beef or turkey also is less likely to carry harmful contaminates than a meat, poultry- or fish-based salad.
- If you take salads, prepare meat, egg, poultry or fish salads less than 24 hours before serving and be sure they are very cold.
- If you plan to pick up picnic foods at the grocery deli or fast-food restaurant on the way to the stadium, take along a cooler to keep food fresh-tasting and healthy; or select deli or restaurant foods the day before. Chill well, then pack in the cooler.
- Wrap sandwiches individually or place them in single-serving food storage bags. Freeze ahead to improve food safety.
- Chill condiments and beverages before placing them in coolers.
- Use separate coolers for beverages and food. Beverage coolers are opened more frequently than food coolers. The temperature inside a cooler rises each time the cooler is opened. And open coolers only when necessary.
- Transfer food directly from the refrigerator to the cooler.
- Remember that temperatures remain more constant in a full cooler. If the cooler is not full, add more ice or foods that are not potentially hazardous -- peanut butter or fruit.
- Keep raw meats and poultry separate in resealable food containers or well-sealed food storage bags away from cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits or vegetables.
- Transport coolers in the air-conditioned passengers' compartment, not in the trunk.
- Keep coolers out of the sun, covered with a blanket.
- If you are grilling at the game, grill only the quantity of food that will be eaten.
- Use a meat thermometer to check doneness: Cook hamburgers and ribs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; ground poultry to 165 degrees; and poultry parts to 180 degrees. Meat thermometers can be purchased for $10 or less at grocery, hardware, kitchen and discount department stores.
- Use a clean utensil for each step. Keep soiled utensils separate from clean ones.
- Transfer cooked meats to a clean serving plate or serve directly from the grill.
- Remove foods from cooler just before serving.
- After eating, do not leave food out. Put leftovers back in the cooler.
- Discard uneaten foods, such as meats left out after one hour when the temperature is 90 degrees. During cooler weather, food may be kept up to two hours safely. If in doubt, throw it out.
- During the game, store the cooler in a shaded area, if possible. Cover the cooler with a blanket.
- If, after the game and trip home, ice or coolants are still keeping food cold, it is possible to refrigerate and reheat leftovers.
How do you pack a safe lunch to take to school or work?
Packing a lunch with leftovers, homemade sandwiches, or even purchased, single-serving foods can be convenient, tasty and cost-saving. If you typically purchase a lunch that costs $4 a day, five days a week, for 52 weeks a year, you need to budget $1,040 a year for lunch. Packing a lunch might average $2 a day, saving those who pack their lunches $520 a year.
To make sure that lunch is safe and satisfying, keep these ideas in mind:
Choose a lunch box, bag or cooler that will work best for you. For example, younger children may prefer cartoon-character lunch boxes with coordinated thermal containers. Hungry teens may opt for insulated coolers that can accommodate more food, and adults may be attracted to insulated zip bags that will fit in their desks.
Lunch box storage and whether there is a microwave or other oven for heating food items or single-serving meals also are factors. For example, if a lunch box will be stored in a school locker, car, or other unrefrigerated area, an insulated cooler is a better choice than a metal lunch box.
Reduce potential risks from food-borne illnesses by keeping the lunch box, bag or cooler clean; wash thermal and reusable containers after each use. Keep kitchen and food preparation counters and tools clean. Remember to wash hands before and after handling food or eating.
You can simplify preparation by preparing more than one lunch at a time. Make several sandwiches at the beginning of the week; wrap them individually and freeze for future use. Or, prepare a family-size, main dish recipe and freeze it in reusable, single-serving containers. When there is more time to cook, perhaps on a rainy day or weekend afternoon, preparing and freezing several family-size recipes can simplify lunch for several weeks, and save time and money, too.
Count on leftovers for lunch. Use them within a day or two, or wrap well and freeze for future use.
Chill ingredients before preparing lunches that will need to be chilled. Transfer chilled foods from the refrigerator directly into the lunch box, insulated bag or cooler. Pack cold foods, such as meat sandwiches or salads, in insulated containers, or freeze them before they are packed as part of the lunch. Pack hot foods, such as soups or main-dish casseroles, in insulated thermal containers.
When frozen sandwiches are packed, they will thaw gradually and should be ready to eat by noon. Foods that do not freeze well include hard-cooked egg whites; salad greens; sour cream; jellies; gelatin salads and some raw vegetables.
Pack condiments separately. When sandwiches are frozen and then thawed, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and other spreads may make the bread soggy. Add condiments or vegetables, such as lettuce and sliced tomatoes, before eating.
Choose foods from several food groups. Pack peeled, sliced vegetables and fruits as go-withs for sandwiches or main dishes. Students who say they don't like vegetables usually do like peanut butter and celery, carrot bar cookies or pumpkin bread.
For a change, try some different protein foods like beef jerky or peanuts. Don't forget the crackers, popcorn, pretzels, bagel chips and other grains. Top it off with fresh or dried fruit and cut-up vegetables.
Vary the menu. Younger students may like sandwiches in cookie-cutter shapes; try peanut butter with sliced apply instead of jelly. Adults often like unusual breads or new sandwich combinations.
Milk and other beverages can be purchased; juice in a box also packs well.
Pack moist towelettes or hand-sanitizing solutions for use before and after eating when soap and water will not be available.
Add an extra treat occasionally -- a small box of raisins, bakery-style cookie, personal note or cartoon cut from Sunday's paper -- to make lunchtime special.
-- Susan Krumm is an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper. She can be reached at 843-7058.