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Simply Entertaining: Don't pack food poisoning in your picnic

Thursday, May 15, 2003

By Mary Miller

Picnic season is almost here -- Memorial Day, graduation parties and last day of school celebrations are on their way.

It's great to send guests home with a little memento from your party -- a small box of chocolates, a net pouch filled with mints, perhaps diarrhea. Diarrhea? According to experts at Penn State, the incidence of food poisoning skyrockets during the summer months.

Keep your guests from a visit to the ER by following a few simple guidelines. First, keep your hands and the food preparation area clean. Bacteria can be picked up from many sources. No need to go into detail about this in the Food section. Just keep your hands and nails clean.

A minimal number of people should handle the food. The more hands, the more chance for contamination. If you are outside and away from running water, use antibacterial wipes to keep everything germ free. Food should be covered not only to keep away unwanted pests in the potato salad, but to protect your guests from harmful bacteria and viruses.

Scatter mint plants around your buffet to discourage insects from feasting on your food. I've also seen some really stylish food covers at discount stores such as TJ Maxx, Marshall's and Target.

Make sure containers and utensils used to serve the food are clean.

Don't place cooked meat on the same dish that held raw meat. Juices from raw meat can harbor bacteria, and this can contaminate the cooked meat. Beware of re-using marinades, too. If you plan to use a marinade as a sauce to serve with grilled meat, boil the marinade first.

Another way to spread germs is to serve meat that is not completely cooked. Use a thermometer to test meat. You can do this for catered food as well. Just check the temperatures before you serve it. If you've hired a catering company, most reputable ones do this for you. As a reminder, hamburgers should be cooked to 160 degrees. Ground poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees and poultry parts should be cooked to 180 degrees.

It's an old story, but keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Bacteria start to multiply between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Pack a cooler with ice and keep the cold foods in it until serving time. Food can be kept out for about two hours before bacteria can begin to multiply. If it is a hot day, however, 1 hour is more like it.

Low-risk yet tasty foods for outdoor gatherings include cole slaw made with a vinegar and oil dressing, baked beans, grilled marinated vegetables, fresh fruit and vegetable trays, cookies, and salsa and chips. Foods that do not need to be refrigerated, such as crackers and hard cheeses, work well, too. Try to serve grilled meats shortly after cooking.

This twist on chips along with two distinctive salsas will add zip to your party, all while using ingredients that are unlikely to cause food poisoning.

Wonton Chips

  • 12 won ton wrappers, cut diagonally into halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Cut each wonton half lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with garlic salt. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 4 to 6 minutes until light brown and crisp, turning once. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Asian Salsa

  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Chill, covered, until serving time.

Papaya Salsa

  • 1 ripe papaya, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

    Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix gently . Season with salt and pepper. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

    Serves 6 to 8.

Source: "Colorado Colore: A Palate of Tastes."

Mary Miller is a Fox Chapel-based registered dietitian and food writer. Her column appears twice monthly. For questions or comments, she can be reached at marymar333@attbi.com

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