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Food Safety in the Great Outdoors

Don't let food poisoning spoil your next outing. Following a few simple rules will keep your outdoor meal memorable for the right reasons.
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Keep it Clean

The second rule of thumb to remember for outdoor food safety is to "keep it clean." That applies to food and the person handling it. Keep raw meat juices from leaking onto other foods by double-wrapping the meat and placing it near the bottom of the cooler surrounded by plenty of ice.

Find out in advance if there will be running water or soap available at your dining destination. If not, bring soap and water with you or a good supply of disposable wipes. Wash your hands before handling foods and keep serving platters and utensils clean and free of cross-contamination from other foods.

The Mayonnaise Myth

Perhaps no other food is quite as infamous at picnics for triggering food poisoning at a picnic than mayonnaise. But according to Bessie Berry, manager of the USDA's meat and poultry hotline, "Mayo's gotten a bad rap."

"It's not mayonnaise itself that's bad," Berry tells WebMD. "It's what people do to mayo that makes it go bad. People dip dirty utensils in it at home and then make dips out of it and take it to a picnic where people double-dip with their veggies. Each time you contaminate it, the mayo can only handle a certain level before the bacteria reaches dangerous levels."

Berry says mayonnaise is fairly acidic, which makes for an inhospitable environment for bacteria, and actually may protect many foods from going bad. She recommends starting off with a fresh jar of mayonnaise and only using clean utensils in it if you plan to make that mayonnaise-rich potato salad or deviled eggs for a picnic. Then pack the foods in plenty of ice to keep it cold, and perhaps even serve deviled eggs on a platter lined with ice.

Do's and Don'ts of Outdoor Food Safety

When deciding what to bring on a picnic or camping trip, keep in mind how you'll transport the food (on your back or in a car) and plan accordingly. Here are some summer food safety tips to keep your food free of dangerous bacteria and reduce the risk of food poisoning:

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