How to ensure no-one ends up sick after your picnic at the beach this week
What does the word 'picnic' mean to you? Are you a wicker basket or a cool box person, a last minute sandy sandwiches at the beach person, or someone with a carefully assembled feast complete with cutlery and glassware? As Ireland turns Mediterranean in the current heatwave, hundreds of picnics will be packed up and down the country as people head with fodo and drink for beaches, parks and wide open spaces.
The one thing you don't want to do with your picnic is to make anyone sick. Home economist Agnes Bouchier Hayes from Limerick Institute of Technology talked to the Today With Claire Byrne show on RTÉ Radio 1 about how to make sure that the food you packed possibly before breakfast is safe to eat at lunchtime. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been lightly edited for length and clarity - full discussion can be heard above).
If something falls on the ground, you do not put it in your mouth
So what did 'picnic' mean to Bouchier Hayes as a kid? "In the box was the chicken, the whole cooked chicken, the sausages that were in a flask, the sandwiches, not put together. Always crisps, Mini Mars, and small bottles of lemonade or the small cans that we used to be able to get in the 1980s. We never ate outside, we always ate in the car."
When it comes to food safety, Bouchier Hayes says the same rules apply. "Just because you're eating outside, it doesn't mean the rules have changed with regards to food safety. What you would do at home remains in place when you're outside. If you want to keep hot food hot, and cold food cold, we do that by using different utensils, like cooler box and ice packs.
"Now, a cooler box is brilliant when you've got a long journey and you've got gel packs that have been frozen already. You take those out of the freezer, you line your cooler box, and that will maintain the temperature and keep the core temperature down. You're still looking at your temperatures between zero degrees and five degrees really is the chill temperature."
Keep the cool box out of the sun
What about hot food? Bouchier Hayes recommends using thermos flasks. "What we would call the danger zone is between five degrees and 63 degrees, but bacteria particularly grows in around 25 to 40 degrees. That's where you really ambient temperature, particularly in hot days. We'd need to be really make sure that we have our chilled chilled, so that we don't give the bacteria a chance to grow."
Bouchier Hayes also had some simple and practical tips to help prevent upset tummies after the picnic. "The first thing is to make sure that you're taking time. Reusable plates are very handy, and using the containers and the lids as well. Just don't put food down on the grass. You wouldn't put it on the beach, so you don't want to pick up anything like that. Also make sure that you keep your picnic box in the shade. So put it behind the deck chairs, or keep it in the boot of the car, and just don't let your food standards slip.
The three second rule most certainly does not apply, according to Bouchier Hayes. "If something falls on the ground, you do not put it in your mouth. There is no three second rule, Claire. ("There is in my house", said Claire Byrne and thousands listening at home)
In terms of packing for the picnic, think safety too. "When you're packing your cooler box, put your ice packs, your gel packs which have been in the freezer, around the side and some on the bottom. Put the things that you need to keep cool on the bottom, and put your crackers and your breads and all of that at the top of the picnic basket.
"Remember, hot air rises and we're trying to minimize the circulation of air. There's three waysthat food heats up, through convection, conduction, and radiation, and what we're trying to do is minimize that. Put your protein stuff, your meats, your eggs, if you're bringing eggs, and all of those mayonnaise-y type things on the bottom, and then at the top put your warmer things.
"Freeze down the bottles of water that you're going to bring and put them in. Put water into a bottle, freeze it down, and also maybe you might have a bottle of wine that you've chilled or a wine sleeve that you've chilled. Put those in as well, because everything cool can be together.
"Keep the cool box out of the sun. It can be difficult when there are smaller people around that are into it and having a nose in it the whole time, but try to keep the cool box closed for as long as possible to hold the temperature within at a chilled. Put it behind the deck chairs, out of the sun. Just cover it to try and keep it as cool as possible."