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Independence Day is almost here again! It is a day for our nation to pause to appreciate and celebrate our freedom. Fourth of July celebrations often include an outdoor picnic with lots of tasty treats. If you’re planning an outdoor celebration for your family and friends, make sure you take a few precautions to ensure none of your guests experience a food-related illness.

Food Safety and Summer Picnics

Many people think fireworks are the most dangerous thing about Independence Day celebrations. While they can be a hazard, they aren’t the only worry. Two others are dehydration and food poisoning.

Food-borne bacteria can be an uninvited guest at your holiday picnic. Warm or humid weather is the ideal environment for illnesses caused by these types of bacteria. The spread of bacteria is partly due to how long food is left outside during summer celebrations, especially when they are held at an area park where a refrigerator isn’t available.

Here are some guidelines you can share with loved ones as you plan your summer picnic menu:

1) Transport and serve food safely

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration says the temperature in coolers should be kept at 40°F or lower to prevent bacteria from developing. You can use ice or frozen gel packs to keep your cooler cold during your picnic. You might also want to invest in a cooler that plugs into the cigarette lighter of your car. It makes keeping food cold when you are on the go much easier.

2) Use separate coolers

You can lower the risk for cross-contamination by using separate coolers for different purposes. For example, store raw meat in one cooler and beverages in another. This also helps because drink coolers are opened more frequently, which puts other foods stored with them at risk for getting too warm.

3) Limit time food is out

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The AARP says picnic food shouldn’t be left outdoors for more than two hours. If the temperature is over 90°F, that time should be cut to just one hour. Make it a practice to put any uneaten food back in the cooler once everyone finishes eating.

4) Pack plenty of hand wipes

Pack wet wipes to use for handwashing when water isn’t available. Make sure everyone who will be involved in handling food at the picnic uses them before preparing and serving food. These wipes are also an easy solution for older adults with mobility issues if the park’s bathrooms aren’t close to your picnic area.

5) Serve hydrating foods and beverages

July is often one of the hottest months of the year. That’s why it’s important to include bottled water and hydrating foods when you plan. Foods that help prevent dehydration include melons, cucumber, leafy green vegetables, and berries.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration created a free guide you might find helpful this summer. Consult “Eating Outdoors: Handling Food Safely, which covers topics ranging from cooler organization to grilling safety.

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