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July 4th picnics, mayo myth and Asian slaw with caramelized almonds

Addie Broyles

Ready for the long holiday weekend? Hopefully you have plans to get together with friends and family and eat something delicious outside this week.

In tomorrow’s food section, we highlight a seriously awesome weekly picnic that takes place on Sundays at the Long Center, as well as an ice chest competition at Schlitterbahn last month, to give readers some tips on improving the picnics they might be packing this summer. (For even more ideas — and gorgeous photos — check out this gluten-free picnic from the Austin blogger behind Forgiving Martha.)

One of the biggest surprises I came across while writing this story was the fact that, contrary to food safety lore, store-bought mayonnaise at room temperature will not make you sick during potlucks and picnics.

For decades, the mayonnaise industry has been fighting the myth that the popular salad dressing and sandwich spread will spoil your picnic because it contains eggs, and eggs sometimes contain salmonella.

Homemade mayonnaise does, in fact, contain eggs and can be considered a hazard at potlucks, picnics and other outdoor meals, but mayonnaise manufacturers use pasteurized eggs, as well as vinegar, lemon juice and salt, to prevent the growth of bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that any sickness from mayo-based salads is likely from cross-contamination with the other ingredients in the dish, particularly proteins like chicken or tuna, and how they are handled during preparation, not from the mayonnaise. Some studies have even shown that the acidic nature of store-bought mayonnaise will slow the rate of spoilage.

You’re more likely to get sick from mishandled meats, improperly washed utensils or cutting boards or even fruits that can carry bacteria on their skin or rind, such as melons.

A note about melons: Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon rinds are harbingers of bacteria, and even though we only eat the inside of the melons, it’s imperative that you wash the outside of the fruit before cutting it up. If you don’t, you risk transferring the bacteria, which can include salmonella, to the cutting board and then on to your fruit.

The best advice for maintaining safe picnic foods is this: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, and if all else fails, bring foods that do not need refrigeration.

This recipe for an Asian cole slaw with caramelized almonds from extreme picnicker Darla Alvarez calls for vegan mayonnaise, an ingredient she uses so that the vegans who attend the picnic can partake, but you can substitute store-bought and serve it at your picnic without much worry.

Asian Cole Slaw with Caramelized Almonds

For caramelized almonds:

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

2 tsp. chili oil

3/4 cup slivered almonds

2 Tbsp. raw sugar

For dressing:

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

1 tsp. chili oil

2 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar

2 Tbsp. white vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. vegan mayo

2 tsp. wasabi paste

For the slaw:

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 small green onions, chopped (including greens)

1 heaping Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1 to 1 1/2 lb. coleslaw mix or thinly shredded cabbage

To caramelize the almonds, heat the first quantities of sesame oil and chile oil in a small saute pan. Place the almonds and sugar in the pan and cook, stirring frequently until the nuts begin to darken and put off an even nuttier smell. Remove from heat and reserve.

To make the dressing, whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together cilantro, green onions, ginger, salt, pepper and coleslaw mix, and slowly add dressing, tossing with tongs to coat. Chill for 1 hour in covered container.

Just before serving toss in almonds, holding some back to sprinkle on top of each serving.

— Darla Alvarez