Spring is here, and summer will be upon us soon, so many of us have begun to plan camping trips, cookouts and picnics. These family and group favorites bring bonding and happy memories, but also present us with a heightened challenge of food safety.
Keeping food safe in the outdoors requires the same storage and handling of the food as when you are entertaining at home. That may be harder to do without conveniences like running water or the trusty refrigerator. When packing for the occasion, in addition to all the clean pots/pans and serving utensils, don't overlook packing a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry reach adequate temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria which could be present. Check often that they remain in the safe temperature zone. It's a wise move to do this before both grilling and serving. You should always carry the perishable foods (hamburger patties, sausage and poultry products) in an insulated cooler with enough ice to keep them safe. I suggest a "dedicated" thermometer to stay with this cooler.
Another problem is lack of space during prep, cooking and serving. This can easily lead to cross-contamination. When taking cooked food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don't put your cooked food on the same platter which held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices will contaminate cooked food. In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should never sit out for more than 1 hour.
If you're taking the easy way out and bringing hot take-out food from your favorite restaurant or supermarket it should be eaten within 2 hours of purchase. If the ambient temperature is above 90 degrees that time drops to only 1 hour.
If you're taking hot food like soup, chili, and stew, use an insulated container. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, then pour it out and re-fill with your piping hot food. If the insulated container is kept closed, the food should stay hot (140 °F or above) for several hours.
If you're catching dinner, all the same safety practices apply. In the past, some have opted for "storing" fish and shellfish on stringers and in nets in the same water where they're caught. It's wise to remember that you aren't the only one catching dinner. It's safer on many levels to store them on ice. Take along a fresh cutting board for the express purpose of cleaning your catch, and don't use it for anything else. Also, have a back-up plan. Some days nothing bites.
As far as cooking times and temperatures, just follow the same rules/procedures that you would practice in the comfort of your home kitchen.
Enjoy the season!