How to keep that picnic from becoming a ‘sick’nic

You’ve likely heard about the five-second rule – if you drop food on the floor and pick it up within five seconds, it’s still safe to eat.

While that doesn’t sound like it has any science behind it, researchers of various stripes have taken it upon themselves to check it out over the years.

And surprisingly, it actually appears to hold water. One study done by a microbiologist in the UK involved dropping different foods — from toast to candy — on various surfaces, finding that bacteria doesn’t transfer all that quickly to food.

Hmm, I’m still not totally convinced on that one!

But here’s another food rule, and carefully following this one can help to keep you, your family, and your friends out of the ER this summer: It’s the one-hour rule. And no, it doesn’t mean that you can eat items off the floor for up to an hour!

The one-hour rule has to do with how long perishable food items packed for a picnic, the beach, your backyard grilling get-together, or even in a brown-bag for lunch can safely stay out of the fridge or cooler when the mercury is over 90 degrees.

More, however, than simply checking your watch when it comes to packing food on the go, there are some simple tips that will up the odds that everyone who enjoyed the fare you served will still be in good shape the next day!

Highway to the ‘danger zone’

You can easily sicken yourself with a foodborne illness even if the chow you’re bringing along was absolutely safe to eat when it left your kitchen.

If you check out the CDC numbers on foodborne infections, they’re quite startling: Every year, 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from something they eat, and thousands die.

And now that summer is truly here, the window of opportunity for keeping food safe without refrigeration has been slashed in half.

Tests done by Ben Chapman, a food safety expert at North Carolina State University, confirmed the one-hour rule I just mentioned – even though he was quite skeptical at first.

For example, he found that Salmonella can have a party on your potato salad (multiplying by 10 times) within an hour when the outside temp hits 92 degrees. And salads with dressings, meats, and chicken aren’t the only foods that can make you sick.

Fresh fruits, veggies – basically anything and everything you can pack for a picnic — can become a breeding ground for bacteria when they’re kept in what’s called the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees F.

Unless you’re planning a picnic during a snowstorm, that covers most of the year – and all of it if you live in the Sunbelt!

So, you want to keep things as cold as possible until you’re ready to eat. And depending on how much – and what — you’re bringing along, that can be done by taking these three steps:

#1: Use more than one cooler, especially if you’re toting ready-to-eat foods and raw burgers or chicken to cook on location. By mixing them together, things can easily become cross-contaminated – all it takes is a drop of liquid from raw meat to make you sick.

#2: If you’re hauling food and drinks, put the beverages in a separate cooler. Like the fridge, the more you open and close an ice chest, the quicker things will lose their cool inside.

#3: Make sure you pack enough ice or use multiple freezer packs to keep foods cold. You can make plenty of your own by freezing water in plastic bottles (just don’t fill them to the top, as liquid expands when frozen).

And if you’ll be doing any grilling, bring along a meat thermometer (yes, even for burgers!). Judging doneness by color is a really bad idea, one that is very often wrong! Burgers need to be cooked to an internal temp of at least 160 degrees F, while turkey burgers and chicken should be at least 165 degrees F to be safe to eat.

But once food is put out for the gang, remember, that’s when the clock starts ticking – with the “alarm” set to go off in an hour!

“Here’s how fast your picnic food goes bad in the heat” Beth Skwarecki” July 3, 2018, Vitals,