Take care, or your lunch could pack a nasty punch

Packed lunches make handy meals whether you want to enjoy the great outdoors, arrange an affordable family day out, or feed the kids at summer scheme. Here are some top tips from safefood on keeping food safe outside the kitchen:

As a general rule, all foods are suitable for packed lunches and picnics but keeping large amounts of cooked food and salads chilled when eating outdoors can be a challenge.

Ready-to-eat foods like cooked meats, quiches, mayonnaises, prepared salads (eg coleslaw, potato salad) and dairy products like cheeses, need to be kept chilled as these are highly perishable. If not stored correctly they could make you ill.

Keep them cool - warm temperatures can make your food an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

- Cooked food needs to be chilled thoroughly in your fridge before you leave - use an insulated cool box/bag with enough ice or icepacks to keep the food chilled (frozen juice cartons can be used as ice packs).

- Take the food from the fridge at the last moment before you leave and then place it in the cool box/bag straight away.

Keep the cool box/bag in the coolest part of the car away from direct sunlight, eg in the boot. When you arrive, keep the cool box/bag out of the sun and keep the lid closed as much as you can. Leave the food in it until you are ready to use it. If any perishable food has become warm then it should not be eaten and should be disposed of carefully. When travelling home, if there is still ice left in the cool box/bag, and you are certain that any unused food has not been left out or warmed up, then it should be safe to bring it home. However, as always, the rule with leftovers is, if in doubt throw them out!

Cook it thoroughly – if you’re cooking outdoors, make sure meat is cooked thoroughly:

- Chicken, pork, burgers, sausages and other meat that has been minced, skewered or rolled should always be cooked the whole way through. This is because bacteria may be mixed throughout the meat, and not just present on the outside, as with steak.

- To check that the meat has been properly cooked all the way through, cut it in the middle with a clean knife to ensure that it is piping hot in the centre, there is no pink meat remaining and the juices run clear.

Prevent cross-contamination – it‘s surprising how easily germs can spread from dirty hands, utensils, surfaces and raw foods:

- If you plan to barbecue, be sure to keep raw food completely separate from ready to eat food, such as sandwiches and salads.

- Place any raw meat in sealed containers at the bottom of your cool box/bag, or in a separate bag if at all possible - this will prevent the spread of germs from meat juices to other foods.

- Use separate plates and utensils for raw and ready to eat foods.

- Wash your hands thoroughly before eating or drinking, or handling raw meat. If there is nowhere suitable to wash your hands bring antibacterial wipes or gel instead.

- Don’t put food directly on picnic tables or other outdoor surfaces, and don’t allow it to touch the ground.

- Pack away food and utensils when not being used as food poisoning germs can be carried by birds, insects and other animals.

For more information on food safety and healthy eating, visit www.safefood.eu find us on Facebook or call the safefood helpline on 0800 085 1683.