July is National Recreation Month – and national picnic, ice cream and hot dog month as well. And July 6 is National Fried Chicken Day. What other excuse do you need to get out and enjoy some fun and outdoors eating at one of the many recreation areas operated by the Brazos River Authority?

Nearly all public areas at Authority lakes are free and feature grills and sheltered picnic tables surrounded by beautiful scenery. For more information about recreation areas at Possum Kingdom Lake, click here. For Lake Granbury, click here, and Lake Limestone, click here.

But before you slap those hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill or slather a generous mound of potato salad on your paper plate, here’s some sage advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help keep your picnic fun and safe.

Pack and transport food safely
Place cold foods in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold foods should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent bacterial growth. Meat can be frozen to help keep it cold longer.

Organize foods appropriately to keep cold and warm foods separate. Consider placing sodas in a separate container, so your guests won’t have to continually open the cooler containing perishable food. Keep the cooler closed to help maintain coolness.

Securely, tightly wrap raw meats and avoid their juices from coming in contact with prepared foods to prevent bacterial cross contamination.

Rinse fruits and vegetables well before packing.

Serving food: keep hot food hot and cold food cold
Keeping food at proper temperatures - indoor and out - is critical in preventing the growth of bacteria. The key is to never let your picnic food remain in the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees — for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees. Cold perishable food should be kept cooler below 40 degrees and hot food should be kept above 140 degrees.

Foods like chicken salad and desserts in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

Wrap hot food well and place it in an insulated container until serving.

Grill safely
Marinate foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Cook food thoroughly and have a meat thermometer handy to make sure. Steaks, roast and fish should be cooked until temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit; pork and ground beef should be heated to 160 degrees and poultry to 165 degrees.

Also, don’t reuse utensils that you used to handle raw and cooking meats. Find new utensils to served prepared foods.

Quick tips for picnic site preparation
Keep all utensils, platters and work surfaces clean when preparing food. Also keep hands clean while handling food. If you don’t have access to running water, simply use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Or, consider using moist disposable towelettes to clean your hands.