Juicy steaks . . . cheeseburgers with fried onions . . . buttered corn on the cob . . . freshly caught fish. Food never tastes better than on picnics or camping trips.
But there's more to cookouts than planning menus. Cookouts can be a source of food poisoning.
Meat that is unrefrigerated for several hours while you travel could be one source of contamination. Harmful microorganisms in the meat multiply. Cooking can destroy many of those germs. But if you return the cooked meat to the surface that contains the drippings--and the germs from the raw meat--the germs then can contaminate the cooked meat.
Another scenario: Eggs boiled in contaminated stream water can cause intestinal illness. But boiling the water for about three minutes before adding the eggs can destroy the germs in the water so that the eggs are not contaminated.
Do not use fresh, cold stream water to cool the eggs. The shells may be slightly cracked from boiling, allowing germs from the stream water to enter the eggs.
In all cases, contamination can cause illness. But food poisoning is avoidable. Here's what to do:
Insulated thermal containers and coolers keep food hot or cold for many hours. Pack coolers so that meat drippings do not contact other food. Keep coolers inside the car where it is cool, not in the hot trunk.
At your cookout site, place coolers in the shade and cover them with a blanket or towel. Open them only when necessary and for as brief a time as possible.
When cooling is not feasible, choose food items that are slow to spoil--processed luncheon meats and hot dogs, for example. Preservatives, including salt, in these items retard the growth of microorganisms.
The best way to transport raw meat for long distances is to start out with it frozen. Ground meat is more perishable than solid pieces and therefore must be transported properly and should be the first item cooked.
Cook meat thoroughly, even the center. Place cooked pieces on clean surfaces. Wash utensils after using on raw and cooked items, and eat the meat while it's still hot.
Other animal proteins--poultry, seafood, milk products, eggs and homemade mayonnaise, for example--spoil quickly. Treat them accordingly.
Wash your hands frequently when handling food, especially after handling raw meat. Use water from a safe source, or boil water.