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Healthy Habits: How-Tos

Summer Party Foods That Can Make You Sick

Follow these tips to enjoy picnic season and stay healthy.

Picnics and parties are one of the best parts of summer. But if they’re not handled correctly, many foods can cause foodborne illness. "Typically, the rule is if it’s been outside the refrigerator or off a heat source for two hours, it’s probably not a good idea to eat it," says Paul Dawson, a professor in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences at Clemson University. We got his tips for the safest way to load up your plate this summer.
Fried Chicken
Dawson’s don’t-eat-it-after-two-hours guideline applies here: When something hot -- like fried chicken -- is left out, bacteria multiply. Keep in mind that if your picnic is at a park, the fried chicken was likely made elsewhere, so you have no idea how long it’s been kept at an unsafe temperature. In that case, it’s best to skip it altogether.
Burgers and Hot Dogs
Unlike fried chicken, these foods are typically served immediately after grilling, which makes them a safe bet. Ask for a well-done burger and check to make sure there’s no pink in the middle. Also, grab your food straight off the grill to prevent the contamination that can sometimes occur when cooked food is placed on a surface that’s been exposed to raw meat.
Potato or Macaroni Salad
Contrary to popular belief, the store-bought mayonnaise that’s typically found in these is actually quite stable. (Commercialized bottles use pasteurized eggs.) It’s during the handling phase -- when the mayo is mixed with other ingredients -- that bacteria can be introduced. So if it’s a hot day and the salad has been sitting out for more than an hour without being kept cold, pick something else.
Chips and Dip
Since store-bought varieties aren’t handled much before they’re set out, these are unlikely to cause food-borne illness. If you have double-dippers at the party, however, that can change things.

Watermelon
Do a temperature check: If it’s cold, go ahead and grab a couple of slices. If the watermelon is lukewarm or hot, though, steer clear. Since most people don’t wash the rind before cutting watermelon, the flesh inside is exposed to bacteria via the knife that’s used to cut it up -- and that bacteria only grows when watermelon is in the heat for too long.
Pies
Summertime staples, like blueberry cobbler or cherry pie, usually aren’t handled much once they come out of the oven. So since the baking kills off any germs, they’re a pretty safe choice. Still, if you’re the host, it’s best to serve your pies hot or cold rather than letting them sit out.

Robin Hilmantel is an associate editor at Food Network Magazine. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, USA Today and Maxim, among other publications. She is a frequent contributor to Completely You.

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