I love grilling in the summer, and the spring, and the fall, and even when it is snowing in the winter. Winter grilling does offer special benefits, I can easily keep everything cold including me. Hot spiced wine helps keep the guests warm.
But let’s think a little about the wonders of summer grilling and our friends, the ice chest, and the cooking/eating utensils. I am planning a picnic at the local park with friends and family. I reserved one of the grills and a couple of the wooden picnic tables. We are planning on grilled burgers, hot dogs, and chicken. We will have pasta salad and potato salad.
So, how many people have more than one ice chest? The raw burger meat, hot dogs and chicken in plastic bags or original store packaging are placed into the ice chest. The containers of the salad are on top of the meat. Then ice is dumped into the ice chest to keep everything cold. Wonder just how cold the ice chest keeps the salads before placing them on the picnic table and then returning them to the ice chest. Do you think the temperature got over 41F even if the salads were below 41F to start within the home refrigerator? Well, the salads certainly will be a little warmer than that by the end of the day. So, do you have a blast cooler in your car other than the AC unit on high, probably not? But you will take the salads home for tomorrow. You will probably be tired of the salads for a day or so after eating about a pound of each at the picnic. When you are ready to have some more, the salads should be nice and cold in the refrigerator. What could go wrong? The salads are still within shelf life printed on the container if you bought it.
So, I want a nice cold drink. Well, maybe I brought along a container with ice and water to keep the drinks cold or perhaps I will use the ice from the ice chest. I am sure I was really careful not to get any meat juices on the outside of the plastic bags. Did I even remember to clean and sanitize my ice chest after the last use? Or did I put the ice in plastic bags as well? The opportunity for cross contamination of food products with E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria appears to be quite alarming if you stop and think about, but no, I just will be as careful as I can be. As I dig through the ice chest to pull out the raw meat, I either take out what I need as I grill or I take out all the meat and put it on the picnic table while I am grilling. Where else can I put it? Am I contaminating the table I plan on eating on? Perhaps, it may have been a good idea to bring a clean table cloth. Is there anywhere to wash my hands after handling the raw meat with hot water and soap? There is a portable toilet about 50 yards away, but is there hand washing available there? Take heart, I brought paper towels to wipe off my hands between handling the different foods. Sounds a little like the joke about getting dishes as clean as cold water can get them. My dog is named Cold Water.
So, I put the raw meat onto the grill with my utensil, just curious, which utensil am I using to turn or baste my meat? It does seem hopeful thinking that after cooking to the correct internal temperature and I keep poking the meat with the same utensil, I don’t get some cross contamination. Yes, I did use a temperature probe on my meat, did I sanitize it as I checked my burger, chicken and hot dogs? Did I cook the meat all at one time or in stages because there is not enough room on the grill? Did I could the different meats on an as needed basis for the different guests? When all the meat is cooked and placed on the serving platter, probably unlikely I would have a unit available to keep my hot foods hot. But it is pretty hot outside so I should be ok. So the meat cools to ambient temperature and I serve with the cooking utensil. The cooked meat will be out in the sun for how long? People come and go, grab a burger or a drink, play horseshoes or if you are a child of the 70s, lawn darts. What possibly could go wrong today?
I wonder who prepared the sliced tomatoes, onions and lettuce? Where was the preparation done, at the picnic table? With all the people at the event, did some helpful person use the salad knife to check to see if the chicken or burgers were done not trusting the temperature probe? They probably heard that if there is not any pink in the center of burgers, the burgers are cooked. But you can have burgers that are not pink in the middle that is still raw. Raw burger meat will darken internally over time. Did you buy some of the “quick sale” meat at the grocery store?
Well, the good thing is that we have lots of leftover cooked meat. Let’s put it in the ice chest and take it home. I am sure there is still ice in the chest at the end of the day or at least some cold water. But we don’t have any extra plastic bags to store the meat. We would dump that water out, wrap the cooked meat in paper bags or whatever is on hand, don’t want soggy food from the water. Of course, I need somewhere to put all the used utensils, guess those utensils go in the ice chest as well. Still, need to find a way to bring the burger veggies home too.
So, tomorrow, I can make myself a nice salad with the leftover burger veggies and put grilled chicken strips on it. Really?
There are many different references to food safety on the web. You need to actually think about how to follow the guidelines during and after a real picnic.
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