Spring has had its day and we’ve passed the first official day of summer, the solstice of 21st June, and with that milestone comes the season for al fresco eating, so beloved by the British people. Picnic baskets will have been dusted off and plastic plates and mugs dug out from the back of the cupboard.
It is worth mentioning that cases of food poisoning in the UK rise significantly over the summer months! Most people love a good picnic but, away from our fridges and freezers and clean running water, it’s wise to be extra mindful of food safety risks and helpful to have some guidelines to follow to get the most out of your al fresco dining experience.
When you’re getting ready – the first steps:
• When preparing the food at home, make sure usual hygiene procedures are followed; wash your hands, keep cooked and raw meat separate to avoid cross contamination and pack the food up separately in airtight containers or keep individual items covered in foil or clingfilm
• If it’s the first time you’re venturing out this summer, give all those implements and containers that have been lurking in the dark corners of your cupboards a thorough clean
When you’re ready to pack up and go:
• Use a cool bag for cold items: a good cool bag lined with ice blocks or frozen gel packs will keep your food cool for a good 2-3 hours. Keeping the food at a low temperature, similar to that of your fridge at home (5°C), will prevent any bacteria from multiplying. It’s best to leave packing the cool bag until just before leaving home so that the food is stored straight from the fridge and is as cold as possible.
• Like you would when stacking your fridge at home, keep any raw meat that you might intend to cook completely separate from other food and place it at the bottom of the cool bag so that there is no danger of any leakage onto other foods.
• Make sure all items are separately contained or wrapped so that you avoid cross contamination.
• If you’re really pushing the boat out and taking hot food, the safest way to transport it is in a thermos box to ensure it retains its temperature. Hot food should be held above 63°C.
• Keep the cool bag in the coolest place possible when in transit, somewhere shady away from the glare of the sun.
When you’re ready to serve up and eat:
• Clean or wash your hands. If there’s a facility for washing, great, but if not, take some anti-bacterial gel with you to ensure you rid your hands of any bacteria you might have picked up running your hands through long grass or making sandcastles.
• Only serve up what you’re intending to eat. Keep the rest in the cool bag until you’re ready for it. In hot weather, food should not be left out for more than a maximum of one hour.
• Keep raw foods and cooked/ready to eat foods strictly separate.
• Make sure you cook any raw meat thoroughly, until the juices run clear and there is no pink left. Use a clean knife to cut into the meat to check the colour and juices if you need to.
• Keep any cooking utensils or implements used in preparing food separate and wrapped up to prevent any bugs or animals touching them and contaminating them.
• Avoid putting food onto unclean surfaces such as the ground, picnic tables etc. Bring plates or even a tablecloth from home if you can.
When you’re ready to come home:
• If the ice packs in the cool bag are still cold and there is leftover food, it should be fine to take home, refrigerate and re-use, – provided it has not been left out but the safest rule is; if in doubt, chuck it out!
Most of all, enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of the sunshine whenever you can because, in this country, you never know when you’ll see it again!