Life is full of lessons. Some are hard, others a bit easier. But the take away – what we learn – is what lessons are all about right? It is how we grow from these lessons that define us as humans. I learned this early on from my grandfather and took it to heart as I grew older.
One of the toughest lessons life threw my way was back in Junior High: the night I realized there is a reason mayonnaise (and any type of mayonnaise based dish) needs to be left in the refrigerator before it is served.
My family was staying the weekend out of town at a friend’s house. We were attending a weekend-long tent revival and to say there was a multitude of people attending would be an understatement. Every day hundreds of church-goers milled around, visited the town, spent money, and used their time doing “church” things. Being a fan of food, one of the joys of meetings like this is the tables upon tables of every dish imaginable. It was a fun time. Meeting new people and spending time with my friends are the memories most present in my mind. That, and the night before we left to go home.
I awoke, dripping wet with sweat. If memory serves it was around two or three in the morning. At first I felt fine, but realized that was changing fast. I had no knowledge of food poisoning or what it was about to do to my body, so the feeling was new and scary. Whatever it was, it happened fast. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say I spent the next few hours in the bathroom. I don’t remember much about that night, but I do remember at some point in time praying to die. That is not meant to be funny either; I was so sick I just wanted it to end. This is one of those times I can honestly say I would not wish what I went through on my worst enemy. Without belaboring the point there came a time in the early morning hours my stomach was left with nothing to purge … but that didn’t stop the muscles in my gut.
It was not until the next morning I found out my mother was in the other bathroom going through the same hell I had been introduced to. That was my first indication that it was more than just a stomach bug and there was something more sinister happening. We both drug our tired and dehydrated bodies to the car and went home. It was during this time we discussed the night’s “pleasantries” and the possibilities of how we both could have come down with the same affliction.
If you haven’t figured it out by now (and from my opening statement) the culprit was a dish my mother and I both ate containing mayonnaise. I cannot for the life of me remember what the dish was. I believe it was macaroni salad since I’m a big fan. All I do know for certainty is never in my life have I been through something so taxing on my body.
Picnic Safety Tips
If you thought you were going to get away without me adding some food safety knowledge you don’t know me very well. If you have not had the pleasure of food poisoning trust me, you never want to go down that road. So, I wanted to add here just a few tips about picnics, dishes needing chilled, and a bit of information on cooking practices.
- Keep perishable food at 40 degrees or lower. When storing food in a cooler, make sure to use plenty of ice or ice packs. Remember to change them often too. If possible, use two separate coolers: one for food and one for drinks. Every time the drink cooler is opened, warm air comes in.
- Keep the food cooler closed until you’re ready to eat. This also applies with food you are going to grill.
- Traveling to the picnic, it is best to keep the coolers away from direct sunlight. Coolers are insulated but can still get warm from prolonged heat.
- Never put food in direct sunlight. Find a spot with plenty of shade.
- The rule of thumb is to throw away any food left out after an hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. Due to the trauma in my past, I would cut that time in half. But that’s just me.
- It is a griller’s rule to use a thermometer to check meat. I would go further and say use it to keep an eye on chilled foods as well. I’m sure I’m jaded but there is no shame in staying safe. Make sure to wash off the thermometer after checking each dish.
Wash Your Damn Hands
Due to the amount of Salmonella outbreaks, I feel it is important to also mention this as it ties in with picnics: wash your hands. I cannot stress this enough. Before handling food, before and after cooking, and after you are done cleaning; it is imperative to keep your hands clean.
I’m positive many of you have stories like this or similar to mine. Food poisoning is something that catches us all off guard at one time or another. If you are one of the lucky ones, bravo. Keep it that way by staying safe when you’re at a picnic or a tent revival.
It took a few days for me to recover from my food poisoning ordeal. Dehydrated, tired, and sore stomach muscles rounded off the experience. Most of that night is a blur to me now; but, I will always remember two important lessons that I hope you can take to heart. One, food poisoning is the absolute worst. Two, never under any circumstances should you eat anything mayonnaise based that has been sitting in the sun for over an hour.
Trust me. If you can avoid feeling the way, I did you have already won.
By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)