Americans celebrate July 4th with picnics, barbecues and fireworks. Whether it is in your own backyard or at local parks and recreation centers, here are some important tips for healthy eating and food safety to keep in mind.
Stay hydrated. As the temperatures increase this summer and we spend more time outside, remember to stay hydrated. Water is the best choice to drink. You can make infused water by adding oranges, lemons, limes, berries or cucumbers for a different flavor. Add a patriotic theme by adding diced blueberries and strawberries to ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. Add these to your water or try some sparkling water for a little fizz.
Plan ahead. This is key to food safety for your celebration. Food borne illnesses increase during the hot summer months when people are eating outside more often. Some essential items to pack for your celebration are:
- food thermometer (if you are grilling)
- two coolers with ice
- plenty of clean utensils
- storage containers for leftovers
- paper towels
- soap and water for handwashing
- trash bags
Prepare food the day before. To save you time, cut up fruits and vegetables and prepare foods like salads, deviled eggs and desserts the day or two before and refrigerate so they are thoroughly chilled when putting in the cooler. If your meats (burgers, hot dogs, steaks or chicken) are frozen, be sure to thaw them in the refrigerator the night before and not on the countertop.
Pack two coolers. Pre-chill your coolers early in the morning by placing ice in them a few hours before packing so they are already chilled. Place raw meats in tightly sealed containers and place them in the bottom of the cooler so juices from these foods do not drip onto other foods. Pack other perishables, like deviled eggs, salads and vegetables directly from the refrigerator right before leaving the house. Make sure to fill coolers with ice around the food to keep it cold. Add extra ice or freezer gel packs on top to keep food at 40°F or colder. A full cooler will keep cold temperatures better than a half-filled cooler. Pack a separate cooler with beverages so they are easily accessible throughout the day and limits the frequency of opening the food cooler.
Keep coolers cool. When traveling, place coolers up front in the air conditioning because temperatures can reach over 140°F in the trunk. Once you arrive at your site, keep coolers in the shade and place a blanket over them. Keep them closed as much as possible to keep the contents inside cold. It is important to keep food out of the “Danger Zone”, between 40 and 140 degrees F, to prevent rapid growth of bacteria, which can cause food borne illnesses.
Tips for grilling. If grilling, be sure to cook meat and poultry to a safe temperature, measured with a food thermometer. To kill bacteria, cook steaks to 145 degrees F, hamburgers and ribs to 160 degrees F, and all poultry and hot dogs to 165 degrees F. Use a clean plate to serve food from the grill.
Store safely. After serving, store foods back in the cooler. Do not allow food to sit out longer than one hour when it is warm outside. If in doubt, throw it out. Some foods such as breads, rolls, chips, crackers, and cookies are okay to leave out but cover to keep them fresh.
Keep your family safe and healthy this Fourth of July by following a few guidelines and taking precautions with your food, and be sure your summertime picnic is full of fun.
Kids can make their own food sparklers!
This requires a make-ahead step of slicing watermelon and then cutting out star shapes with a cookie cutter. Place watermelon stars in a covered container to use when making the sparklers. Fill separate containers with blueberries and strawberries. Set up a station so kids can create their own sparklers. Start with a wooden skewer. Next add blueberries and strawberries to the skewer but leave space at the top for the watermelon star. A fun, creative way to enjoy a healthy patriotic treat.
The whole family can enjoy brainstorming and creating other patriotic-themed foods to celebrate our nation’s birthday.