While summer food safety tips tend to centre on properly handling and cooking food, let's take it a step further and discuss how to keep food safe when travelling during the dog days of summer.
As a food expert who has taught food safety from the farm to the plate, I know how important it is to keep food chilled en route, to wash fruits and veggies properly, and to clean reusable shopping bags often. Check out these simple ideas to keep your food safe as you enjoy summer day trips, picnics and longer road trips!
Chill out on the road
Long road trips call for sealable containers, ice packs and coolers to safely transport your favourite summertime foods. Ensure all food is stored in sealed containers to prevent cross-contamination. If you're taking a fully cooked dish, make sure you cool it or freeze it before transferring it into the cooler with ice packs. You don't want any food in the temperature danger zone of 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F) on the road trip as this is the range where harmful bacteria can easily grow and multiply.
Be sure to organize the cooler's contents. I recommend having a separate cooler for raw proteins including meat, chicken and fish. Make sure each are in their own packages or containers. Have another cooler for ready-to-eat foods and a final cooler for beverages. Once you reach your destination, transfer the foods that require refrigeration right away before unpacking everything else. If you're travelling an extra long distance, think about buying perishable items at a local grocery store close to your event.
Wash fruits and vegetables
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy many fruits and vegetables. As soon as you pick or purchase these items, you should clean them carefully. Before and after washing and prepping fresh produce, make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. For all fruit and veggies, wash them with running water and scrub them with a clean brush to remove all dirt and debris. Dry off the excess water with a clean paper towel. Now they are ready for you to enjoy, cook, or pack in a container for that summer road-trip!
I don't recommend any packaged fruit and vegetable cleaners as they are not more effective at removing bacteria from fresh produce than using running water and mechanical action. Remember to cut away damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Even if you don't plan on eating the skin, it's still important to wash first so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface to the inside when peeling or cutting. Finally, scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
Clean reusable shopping bags
When it comes to reusable shopping bags in the summer, choose insulated bags that will protect the food from the sunlight and maintain a cool temperature. This will reduce the chances of it spoiling before you put it in the fridge. To prevent cross-contamination, use different bags for different items. For example, have a designated bag that's used only for meat. Wrap fresh produce in plastic bags to help protect from contamination, as those foods are often eaten raw.
Remember, reusable bags need to be washed on a regular basis to avoid the build-up of food debris, bad bacteria and to avoid cross-contamination. Most are machine washable, so schedule a day per week when you segregate and wash the bags. Hand-wash insulated reusable grocery bags inside out with hot soapy water and dry with paper towels.
The last thing you want in the beautiful summer is to become ill due to improper food safety practices.
Leaving unwashed bags in the car during the summer heat can act as an incubator for bacteria to multiply; it's something I've been guilty of doing. To avoid this, store your washed and dried bags in a clean, cool place and only transport them to and from the grocery store.
The bottom line on summer food safety
The last thing you want in the beautiful summer is to become ill due to improper food safety practices. So remember to chill out on the road, wash fruits and veggies properly, and clean reusable shopping bags often. These simple precautions will keep your food safe, letting you enjoy all those hot summer events!
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