Safer, Spicier Picnics

Family Camping By Lake On Hiking Adventure In ForestPicnic season is underway, a time for outdoor food and fun. But it’s also an opportunity to look at not only what we’re eating and how to prepare it safely, but with a little more flavor! (And that doesn’t mean more salt.)

Safety First

Each year, one in six people in the U.S. gets food poisoning from the E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella in spoiled food. That’s 48 million cases annually with 128,000 hospitalizations (and 3,000 deaths). Avoid sickness with these tips:

Clean carefully. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling foods or tools. Wash counters with disposable, antibacterial wipes. Also clean cutting boards and cooking tools before and after use with dishwashing liquid, and rinse well. Be sure to rinse fruits and vegetables carefully before peeling. Ditch dishcloths for disposable paper towels. Indoors or out, always separate cooked from raw, by using three cutting boards. Use one clean cutting board for fruits and vegetables only. Use another clean one for cooked fish or meats, and another clean one for raw fish or meats. Clean in between uses. Ditto plates or serving platters. At the store (in the cart), and in the fridge (different bins), separate raw meat and eggs from each other and the rest of the groceries.

Cook Thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to be sure meat is cooked through to an internal temperature of 165oF. Keep food hot after cooking until served at 140oF. If using a microwave, follow cooking directions on labels to “let sit for x minutes” following timed cooking, then check with a thermometer. Keep kids away from the heat! It should be adults only with heat-proof aprons and mitts around barbeque pits, hot outdoor grills, or any open flame.

Chill. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours in shallow, covered containers to reduce their temperature faster and stay safer longer. Thaw frozen food in the fridge only. Marinate meat in the fridge, too. Throw out the marinade after marinating time is done. Toss almost-spoiled and spoiled food quickly.

Save the Salt, Add the Spice

Did you know that 3,400 mg is the amount of sodium (salt) that the average American consumes in one day?  The American Heart Association recommends just 1,500 mg or less sodium a day as ideal to stay healthy. About 77.9 million adults have high blood pressure. Kids who have a high sodium diet are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure as those who keep their salt intake low.

  • Choose low-sodium (and no-added-sugar) condiments.
  • Stick to a just a “pinch” of salt if a recipe calls for it.
  • Herbs like basil, oregano, and rosemary, plus dry mustard, boost flavor in “dry” rubs for lean meats or fish.
  • Add herbs to olive oil with lemon juice and vinegar for healthier, homemade salad dressings and marinades. (You’ll have more control of ingredients than with bottled dressings.)
  • Dried herbs are stronger than fresh ones, so if you’re swapping out dried herbs for fresh in a recipe, think:  one teaspoon dried herb = one tablespoon fresh herb.
  • Toss in dried herbs earlier in the cooking process to help them release their flavor. Use fresh last.
  • Get creative with more exotic spices, like coriander, cumin, ginger, and paprika!
  • Pile on the veggies! Add them to the grill, to salads, and to pizza (replace those other salty, high-fat toppings; you can even try cauliflower crust!). Sub in lettuce leaves for bread and rolls (key places salt can hide).

Whether outside or indoors, safe food preparation and a spread bursting with healthy flavor is your recipe for success!

By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

Sources include:,,,

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