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Outdoor Dining Tips

Guidelines for a creative, nutritious and safe outdoor meal

Summer offers many opportunities for dining outdoors. But remember: "Al fresco" dining, as suggested by its name, requires things to be fresh and stay fresh.

Fruits and vegetables are always a safe bet for outdoor dining. Most fruits and vegetables are really nutrient dense, meaning you get a lot of nutrition with a relatively small caloric intake. Plus, the variety and color lets you get really creative with the presentation.

Try making your own salad bar using a well-iced cooler. Just place containers with fruits and vegetables and other dishes for your salad bar directly in the ice. You can then close the cooler when not in use, providing a creative way to serve your guests while keeping food at its freshest and safest.

Remember, as with any food preparation, you want to keep things:

  • Clean – your hands, containers and any surfaces that you're serving on
  • Separate – to avoid cross contamination
  • Chilled – below 40 degrees for cold dishes
  • Cooked – to a safe internal temperature (usually above 170 degrees) for hot dishes

Another consideration is to bring only the amount of food that you're going to serve. You should always discard any food leftover after an outdoor event because it can become unsafe when cold foods get too warm, or when heated foods cool down too much or too slowly. Also, when insects contact food, they contaminate it to the point of being unsafe.

You may want to simply avoid foods that you have to be overly cautious about, such as foods that contain ingredients like eggs and homemade mayonnaise.

Many people forget that you also have to be careful in your backyard. Remember to keep things on ice, as you would on a picnic, or re-refrigerate food as soon as possible. And follow the FDA's clean, separate, chill and cook guidelines.

You'll also want to remember to keep your guests hydrated in the summer heat. You can provide calorie-free or low-calorie beverages like iced tea, flavored waters, and low-calorie lemonade mixes. These can be spruced up with fresh fruit garnishes or mint.

Keeping things fresh will help to ensure that all of your outdoor meals are as safe as they are enjoyable.

July 2009