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Keep Picnic Fare Out of the Danger Zone

Fine Cooking Issue 58

With picnic season coming up, we’d like to remind you of a few food safety precautions to take for foods that might be sitting out on the picnic table for a while. Bacteria love a moist environment, and most foods fit that description. Bacteria also grow best in temperatures between 40° to 140°F, a range known as the “danger zone.” Foods shouldn’t be allowed to linger in the danger zone for more than two hours (or one hour on a very hot day), so try to wait until the last moment before you take foods out of the refrigerator or cooler. If you intend to leave foods out for longer than two hours (which isn’t recommended, but we’ve all been known to do it), set them over ice to keep them as cool as possible, and keep them covered when you can.

Don’t blame the mayo

And now for a little known food-safety fact: Whenever a mayonnaise-based potato salad is linked to a foodborne illness, chances are it was the potatoes and not the mayo that caused the illness. Commercially produced mayonnaise is usually quite safe, but there is a certain strain of bacteria (Bacillus cereus) that loves cooked starches like potatoes and rice. So whenever you’re making potato or pasta salad, cool the salad quickly by spreading it on a platter and putting it in the fridge, and keep it chilled until just before serving.

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