Strategies for eating safely at summer picnics

Jul. 1, 2017

Couple eating outsideSummer picnics and barbecues are a time for family and friends, eating outdoors and enjoying good weather. If your immune system is weakened by cancer treatment, these events can also be fraught with food-safety challenges like shared serving utensils and foods that aren’t kept as cold as they need to be. That doesn’t have to keep you from joining the party though.

Wilmot oncology dietitian Melissa Zahn, RD, shares these tips for making the most of your next cookout:

Try to arrive when the food is first served: One of the biggest dangers at barbecues and picnics is food that has not been kept at the right temperature. Illness-causing bacteria can start growing in perishable foods within two hours. If it’s really hot — 90 degrees or more — it can start within an hour. Getting there when the food first comes out can help you avoid foodborne illness. If you’re not hungry right away, fix a plate for yourself, wrap it well and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready.

Choose your foods carefully: Avoid raw or undercooked eggs, meat and fish. Anything with mayonnaise, cold hot dogs or deli meats can also be dangerous. While fresh fruits and vegetables are great, you may want to skip them if you’re not sure whether they’ve been properly washed.

Consider eating before you go: If you’re at a park or other location where refrigeration is not an option, think about having a meal at home first. Then you can focus on socializing without worrying about what to eat.

Bring your own: If you’re having difficulty eating or are losing weight, consider bringing a cooler with some foods you like. Make sure it’s packed well with ice or ice packs, and keep it closed until you’re ready to eat. It’s OK not to share.

Stay hydrated: Regardless of whether you’re eating at the picnic or at home, make sure you stay hydrated while you’re out. Water is the best choice, especially in the heat. Sodas and other caffeinated drinks can contribute to dehydration and aren’t great at quenching thirst.