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SAFE FOOD TO GO-
A Guide to Packing
Picnicking & Camping Out
*' J ** .l .u A L
"What do I have for lunch?" 2
Packing safe lunches
"C'mon, let's have a picnic!" 5
Safe picnicking from store-to-park
"Must camping mean roughing it?" 8
Food safety for overnight campers
"Take me out to the football game!" 11
Protecting hot food in cool weather
Reporting Food Illness 13
Using the Meat & Poultry Hotline 16
CHARTS: Understanding the Food Poisoners 14
Staph, Salmonella, Perfringens, C. jejuni, C. botulinum
This publication is made available
through the Consumer Information Center
in cooperation with the United States
Office of Consumer Affairs.
Writer- Mary Ann Parmley
Microbiology Stanley S. Green
Carl S. Custer
Design Deborah Shelton
Illustration Barry Moyer
Home & Garden Bulletin
Nu mber 242
Slightly Revised May 1986
SAFE FOOD TO GO-
Particularly in warm weather, if you could just throw the refrigerator
under one arm and take it with you, there wouldn't be any problem in
caring for food to go.
That's because the best way to fight food poisoning is to keep
perishable foods-especially meat and poultry-cold between prepara-
tion and serving.
Why keep food cold? At warm temperatures-600 F and over-food
poisoning bacteria can begin to multiply and cause illness. At summer
temperatures of 800 F and above, they multiply very quickly.
While food poisoning usually means uncomfortable intestinal flu-like
symptoms, it can be serious-in the young, the old, and people with other
illnesses. The rarely-occurring
botulism, of course, is always
SFood poisoning is a larger
problem than you might think
too-over 2 million people a year
Plus, food poisoning bac-
teria are tough to deal with
because you usually don't
even know they're
They are micro-
scopic in size, and
you normally can't see,
smell, or taste them.
(See chart, page 14.)
S'So, for food safety,
prevention is the watch-
word. By observing the
cold storage, sanitation, and
thorough cooking rules in
this booklet, you can keep
your food safe any time you
pack it to go, starting
"What Do I Have
for Lunch?" A trying question, right? And one you face
day after day. Whatever you put together, though, here's how to pack it
safely- whether in a school lunchbox, a plain brown bag, or a leather
* Keep everything that touches food clean. Stop and wash your hands
before preparing food. And wash utensils, bowls, and countertops-
everything that touches food-
between work on
0 /1 l 1 (ie
Use a fork-rather than your hands-to mix meat, macaroni, egg,
tuna or green salads.
Why all this emphasis on clean hands? Your hands continually pick
up bacteria and other germs, and these organisms dig in around the
fingernails and in the creased skin of the hand. Only vigorous washing
with hot, soapy water prepares hands to safely deal with food.
* Cook food thoroughly. For complete safety, raw meat, poultry and fish
should be thoroughly cooked, following package or cookbook directions.
* Refrigerate lunch fixed the night before. Pack your bag with perisha-
bles-meat or poultry sandwiches, hardboiled eggs-and refrigerate it.
Add chips and cookies (that go limp in the refrigerator) and cold drinks
the following morning.
Keep your lunch COLD
If possible, refrigerate your lunch again at work or school. If not,
here are some other "cooling" tips:
Put something cold in the
lunch bag-a cold drink, a
small, plastic refrigerator
dish filled with water and
frozen, or one of the
new commercial freez-
ing gels. Some lunch
bags now come with
(I freeze-pack inserts.
* Freeze your sandwiches. This works best with coarse-textured breads
that won't get soggy on thawing. The sandwich thaws in time for lunch,
and keeps everything else cool in the meantime. NOTE: Hold the lettuce,
tomato and mayonnaise. They don't freeze well. Pack them to add at lunch
* Use a thermos to keep milk or juice cold until lunchtime. Or try the
new fruit juices in special wax-paper cartons that need no refrigeration.
* Whatever you do, keep your lunch in the coolest place possible. Avoid
leaving it in direct sun or on a warm radiator.
Safe take-along foods
Meats & poultry. Commercially pre-cooked and ready-to-eat meats,
such as corned beef, salami and bologna, are good lunchbox choices
because they last well.
Canned meat and poultry, which can be opened and eaten im-
mediately, are a good bet too. Just make sure the can is properly sealed
and not rusted, bulging, or badly dented (see botulism warnings,
Fruits & Vegetables. Fresh, firm fruits and vegetables travel well.
Washing them before packing helps to remove soil you can see plus
bacteria, viruses, and insecticide sprays you can't see.
Caring for the carriers
If you use a lunchbox or one of the new laminated totes, wash it out
every night to keep bacteria from growing in seams and corners. A
weekly wash-out with baking soda should eliminate odors.
If you're a brown bagger, use only new, clean bags. Don't re-use bags
that have carried groceries. They can pass insects or bacteria from other
food to your lunch. And NEVER use a bag that's wet or stained. It could
be very "germy."
Got a microwave at work?
Great for warming up leftover cuts, the microwave also heats
sliced-meat sandwiches, and makes "meal-in-a-cup" soups.
NOTE: For safety's sake, keep perishables in the office refrigerator,
if you have one, before
^.) 4- < ^ microwaving at noon.
Let's Have a Picnic!" When a fine summer
afternoon makes everyone "think picnic," you could find yourself
Never fear. Find the picnic hamper and the cooler. Then thumb
through these warm weather food care hints
before you head
to the store.
* Buy perishable products last at the store and get them right home to
the refrigerator, or into the portable ice-chest or insulated bag you're
taking on the picnic. Never leave perishables in a hot car while you run
Cold storage of picnic food
* For quick use, perishable products can be kept in the refrigerator for
a few days. If the store wrap on meat and poultry is clean and not torn,
leave it on. Otherwise, re-wrap products in clean plastic or aluminum
wrap. Make sure the refrigerator is cooling food to 400 F or lower.
* For longer storage, freeze food. Wrap items tightly in heavy freezer
foil or bags. Make sure your freezer registers 00 F or lower. NOTE:
Mayonnaise-based meat, poultry and fish salads don't freeze well. Nor do
tomatoes and lettuce.
Thawing -do it the night before
Contrary to common practice, it's not safe to thaw meat and poultry
on the kitchen counter. Bacteria can multiply dangerously in the outer
layers before inner areas are thawed. Instead...
* To allow plenty of time for larger cuts to thaw, take meat or poultry out
of the freezer and put it on a refrigerator shelf a night or two before youl
need it. Small cuts will usually thaw in the refrigerator over- night.
* But if the meat is still partially frozen when you're ready to leave, no
problem. Just cook it a bit longer at the picnic.
And cook everything thoroughly. Hamburger patties, pork chops,
and ribs should be cooked until all the pink is gone; poultry until there is
no red in the joints. Fresh fish should be cooked till it "flakes" with a fork.
Steak? If you like your steak rare or medium-rare, just remember that
there is a chance that some food poisoning organisms can survive such
short cooking times.
Take what you know about kitchen
cleanliness out to the grill
* If there's no water faucet available, use disposable, wet handiwipes to
clean your hands before working with food.
* Keep bacteria on raw meat and poultry from spreading. Wash your
hands again after working with raw meat or poultry and before handling
And take up cooked meat and poultry with clean utensils onto a fresh
plate for serving. Don't re-use utensils, plates, or bowls you used with the
raw product-for either the cooked meat or the other food.
COOL-IT with a cooler
For a relaxed, worry-free picnic, keep your perishable food-ham,
potato or macaroni salad, hamburger, hot dogs, lunch meat, cooked beef
or chicken, deviled eggs, custard or cream pies-in a cooler.
While all mayonnaise-based salads should be kept on ice, the mayon-
naise you buy at the store is not a food poisoning villain. Its high acid
content actually slows bacterial growth. But home-made mayonnaise, if
made without lemon juice or vinegar, can be risky.
The cooler should be well-insulated and packed with ice, or you can
use a freeze-pack insert. Cold drinks in cans help keep other food cool too.
When possible, place the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid on.
Serving young picnickers
Toddlers who don't chew food well can choke when they try to
"swallow things whole." To minimize this danger, supervise mealtime.
Keep the child seated. Cut hotdogs lengthwise in narrow strips before
serving. Watch carrot and celery sticks, grapes, apples, cookies, and nuts
too. Cut or crumble these foods into pieces too small to block the child's
Put perishable foods back in the cooler as soon as you finish eating.
Don't leave them out while you go for a swim or hike.
When possible, put the chest in the passenger area of the car for the
trip home. It's much cooler than the trunk!
If you were gone no more than 4 or 5 hours, and your perishables
'were on ice except when cooked and served, you should be able to save the
"Must Camping Mean
Roughing It?" Not necessarily, although
anytime you're away from the convenience of a kitchen, food care is
going to be a bit more difficult.
"Difficult," but not impossible. Camping does pose special food safety
problems, but you can plan ahead
to solve them.
What are the problems? Lack of refrigeration ranks first.
Even on a short, overnight trip-what this section covers-cooler
space will be limited. And you'll need it for food that must be kept cold-
fresh meat and poultry, milk, butter and eggs.
But the trip may involve several meals-supper the first night, plus
meals and snacks the following day-so how can you solve the "refrigera-
Picking your camp food
Don't take any more ice-requiring foods than you can use early in the
For use later in the trip, you'll want camp food that doesn't need ice.
This includes canned meat and fish, canned meat and vegetable soups and
stews, and such old standbys as peanut butter (for high-protein snacks),
and dry and cooked cereals.
Camping stores also have a wide variety of dehydrated foods-dried
meat sticks, dried fruit and nut mixes for trail snacks, and even whole
dried dinners. For beef stew from a pouch, for instance, you just add
Which brings us to water...
Probably the second toughest 0%
camping problem is how to cope
without reliable tap-water.
Using bottled water for
drinking or mixing
with food is a good ..
Why? Because stream and river water may contain viruses and
bacteria. You must therefore treat it before you use it for drinking or
You can boil it for 15 minutes or use commercial purification tablets.
After boiling, let the water stand for 30 minutes so that mud, twigs
and so forth settle to the bottom. Dip out and strain through a clean cloth
Follow package directions carefully when using purification tablets.
Keeping perishables cold
In warm weather (800 F or over), you need to be especially careful
with the foods in the ice chest.
* In the car going to the campsite, put the ice chest in the passenger
section. It's much cooler than the trunk!
* The first night's dinner-You can enjoy fresh meat and poultry dishes
the first night, even in warm weather, if you bring them partially thawed
for cooking, or pre-cooked and frozen for re-heating. For example, frozen
hamburger patties are good to bring from home.
* Bacon, lunch meat or hotdogs for the second day? In cooler outside
weather (under 800 F), you can take these things for breakfast and lunch
the second day. If there are still chunks of ice in the cooler water when
you're ready to use them, they are still cold enough to be safe.
* If you catch fish while camping, remember that fish are highly
perishable. After cleaning, wash fish thoroughly. Cook immediately or
wrap tightly and keep in the cooler with ice for no longer than 24 hours.
* Other ways to keep the ice chest cool -Wrap the cooler in newspapers
and put it in a sleeping bag in the shade while you're hiking, fishing, or
Thoroughly cook meat, poultry, and fish
To kill any food poisoning bacteria present, meat, poultry, and fish
must be thoroughly cooked and served hot. Generally, red meat should be
cooked until all the pink is gone, poultry until there is no red in the joints,
and fish until flaky. (On the question of rare steak, see page 6.)
For outdoor cooking after dark, check the meat under a bright light.
Expert campers warn that everything "looks" done in the dark.
A clean camp stays healthy
Camp sanitation isn't hard, it's just a matter of remembering what
you'd do at home. Wash your hands with soap and see that youngsters do,
too, before preparing food. "Wet" handiwipes will work when you're in a
hurry. Remember to wash hands after handling raw meat and poultry, and
to use clean plates and utensils for preparing each separate food.
"Take Me Out to the Football
SGam e.!" Question: Could food poisoning invade your cool-
Let's say it's a football game or a concert-whatever would prompt
you to head out to the stadium with a great hot supper to share with
Won't the low outside temperatures eliminate most problems with
Not entirely. Food poisoning is much less of a threat in cooler
weather, but bacteria can still grow any time they enjoy the right
temperatures-between 600 and 1250 F-long enough.
So if the centerpiece of your tailgate supper-a hot chili, stew,
chowder, or sausage casserole-cools into the DANGER temperature
zone, it could become a target.
How can you prevent it?
Use the thermos bottle properly
A clean, well-functioning thermos can keep your hot food at a safe
temperature for several hours,
L. but it's up to you to
make sure the
thermos is working
--- Check the seal
S around the stop-
Sper to make sure
it fits tightly.
This will keep
the food at a
* Right before use, rinse the clean thermos with boiling water. Then
bring the food to as high a temperature as you can before pouring it in.
This will keep the food temperature as high as possible until you're ready
to serve it.
If you can keep your hot food above 1400 F, it should stay safe. (At
1400 F, liquid is hot to the touch.)
* 'Try to prepare just enough thermos food to serve your guests without
If you do have a tiny bit left, you should probably discard it when you
Taking a casserole?
A thoroughly cooked
casserole will usually stay
safe (and warm) in cool
weather if you insulate
it well. Try several
layers of aluminum
wrap, followed .
and a towel.
of a cardboard
box, fitting other
items around it. Serve
as soon as you reach your
destination. Again, discard the
leftovers at home.
Reporting Food Illness At some point, you
or your family could get food poisoning. If the telltale intestinal flu-like
symptoms appear (see chart, page 14), what should you do?
Treating the illness
* If you're only mildly ill, treat the symptoms like flu. Rest and drink
plenty of fluids.
* If symptoms are severe, or the victim is quite young, elderly, or suffers
from a chronic condition, see a doctor.
Phoning in a report
Where a number of people may have been exposed to the suspect
food or product-for example, you ate it at a large gathering, a
restaurant, a sidewalk stand, a cafeteria, or bought the product at the
store or a farmer's market-you should call your local health department.
Have this information ready:
* Your name, address, and daytime phone number.
* A brief explanation of the incident-date, occasion, food involved,
symptoms, how many people concerned.
If you bought the food at the store, have the container in hand so you can
refer to it.
* Try to remember the name and location of the store.
* Look at the container. It will tell you the producer's name and address.
* On meat and poultry products, the USDA inspection stamp gives the
plant number. On red meat items, you'll see a number like "EST. 38," and
on poultry products "P-42." The number identifies the processing plant
where the product was made.
* Many products are also coded with a batch number, which frequently
tells the day and shift the item was made.
This can help investigators trace what
may have gone wrong in the
storage, or handling.
After you report the
problem, wrap the
S\ suspect food and mark
it "Danger." Keep it
refrigerated out of the
reach of children.
Health officials may
need to examine it.
What is Food Poisoning? Food poisoning, caused by harmful bacteria, normally
produces intestinal flu-like symptoms lasting a few hours to several days. But in
cases of botulism, or when food poisoning strikes infants, the ill or the elderly, the
situation can be serious.
How It Attacks
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)
Staph spreads from someone handling food.
It is found on the skin and in boils, pimples
and throat infections. At warm tempera-
tures, staph produces a poison.
You can get salmonella when infected food -
meat, poultry, eggs, fish is eaten raw or
undercooked. Other cases? When cooked food
comes in contact with infected raw food, or
when an infected person contaminates food.
This "buffet germ" grows rapidly in large
portions of food that are cooling slowly. It
can also grow in chafing dishes which may
not keep food sufficiently hot, and even in the
refrigerator if food is stored in large portions
which do not cool quickly.
You drink untreated water on an outing. Your
pet becomes infected and spreads it to the
whole family, or you eat raw or undercooked
meat, poultry or shellfish.
Often occurs in home-canned or any canned
goods showing warning signs clear liquids
turned milky, cracked jars, loose lids, swollen
or dented cans or lids. Beware of any jar or
can that spurts liquid or has an off-odor when
Note: While the chart highlights the preventive measures most important
in avoiding each type of bacteria, you should understand that
all the rules of prevention should be followed with all food.
he Food Poisoners
Where do these bacteria come from and how can they be stopped?
Food poisoning bacteria, microscopic in size, surround us in the air, soil, water, in our
own digestive tracts and in those of many animals. The only way they can effectively be
stopped is by careful attention to food handling rules like those outlined in this booklet.
2-8 hours after eating, you could
have vomiting and diarrhea lasting
a day or two.
Cooking won't destroy the staph poison, so:
-Wash hands, utensils before preparing
-Don't leave food out over 2 hours.
-Susceptible foods are meat, poultry, meat
and poultry salads, cheese, egg products,
starchy salads (potato, macaroni, pasta and
tuna), custards, cream-filled desserts.
In 12-36 hours you could have diar- Keep raw food away from cooked food, and:
rhea, fever and vomiting lasting 2-7 -Thoroughly cook meat, poultry, fish.
days. -Be especially careful with poultry, pork,
roast beef, hamburger.
-Don't drink unpasteurized milk.
In 8-24 hours you could have diar- Keep food hot (over 140 F) or cold (under
rhea and gas pains, ending usually 40 F), and:
in less than a day. But older people -Divide bulk cooked foods into smaller
and ulcer patients can be badly portions for serving and cooling.
affected. -Be careful with poultry, gravy, stews,
In 2-5 days you could have severe Don't drink untreated water or un-
(possibly bloody) diarrhea, cramp- pasteurized milk, and:
ing, fever and headache lasting 2-7 -Thoroughly clean hands, utensils and
days. surfaces that touch raw meats.
-Thoroughly cook meat, poultry and fish.
in 12-48 hours your nervous system
could be affected. Symptoms? Dou-
ble vision, droopy eyelids, trouble
speaking and swallowing, difficult
breathing. Untreated, botulism can
Carefully examine home-canned goods be-
fore use, and:
-Don't use any canned goods showing
-If you or a family member has botulism
symptoms, get medical help immediately.
-See page 13 for how to refrigerate
suspect food and when to call health
Other Questions About
Meat & Poultry?
Call USDA's Meat & Poultry
(Washington, D. C. area residents call 447-3333*)
Staffed by home economists, the hotline operates
weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., EDT. Our hotline experts
can answer your questions on the proper handling of meat and
poultry, how to tell if it's safe to eat, and how to better
understand meat and poultry labels.
They can also tell you how to handle problems with meat
and poultry products.
To report a faulty product, first refrigerate it-if
possible, in the original container. Second, notify the store
where you bought it. THEN call the Hotline. They'll tell you
what you should do, and whether health authorities should be
You can also write to:
The Meat and Poultry Hotline
USDA-FSIS, Rm. 1165-S
Washington, D. C. 20250
*These numbers are accessible by Telecommunications
Devices for the Deaf.
For More Food Safety
Information, You Can Order
1. THE SAFE FOOD BOOK-Your Kitchen Guide. Home &
Garden Bulletin No. 241, December 1984.
2. TALKING ABOUT TURKEY-How to Buy, Store, Thaw,
Stuff, and Prepare Your Holiday Bird. Home & Garden
Bulletin No. 243, July 1984.
Publications 1 and 2 are FREE from:
FSIS Publications Office,
Washington, D. C. 20250
Staphylococcus aureus, staph.
For more detail, see
"Understanding the Food
Poisoners," page 14.
This microscopic-sized bacteria-
it's so tiny you can't see it-can cause
big trouble. It can threaten picnickers
who aren't careful with food.
How? It lives on your hands and in
your nose and throat. In hot weather
it grows quickly to produce illness.
Its name in Latin means "golden
grapes." This mystery bacteria is
or for short.
Answer, inside back cover
* I, 4
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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