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Micro-Organisms - The Poisonous Picnic

Have you cleaned out your refrigerator lately? Even though your refrigerator is built to keep your food fresh longer, when you open the door warm air gets in, and that can lead to food spoilage.

Unless food is handled properly, fruits and vegetables can rot and milk can become sour. What causes this? You guessed it, MICROORGANISMS! Other microorganisms can even kill growing crops such as the black rot that infested the potato crops in Ireland and led to the famous Irish Potato Famine of 1846-1850.

Now that you know a little bit about what microorganisms can do to your food, let me tell you about Pat and the poisonous picnic. As you read, look carefully for clues about which food might have made Pat’s family sick.

Pat couldn’t wait for the annual 4th of July picnic. His family always packed a picnic lunch, went to the park, ate and played games before watching the fireworks. This year, Pat helped pack the picnic lunch. Pat had been studying Louis Pasteur and understood that air can cause rotting and decomposition of foods. He wanted to make sure everything would be safe.

First Pat got the cooler and filled it with ice. Mom said to put the hot dogs and hamburger in the bottom of the cooler. "Don’t forget my meat thermometer," said Dad.

Pat added another layer of ice before adding Mom’s freshly made bowl of macaroni salad. Next to the sealed bowl he put two six packs of fruit punch. He made sure he closed the cooler tightly before putting it in the trunk of the car.

The rest of picnic parade was packed in the periwinkle picnic basket. They loaded up the car and headed to the park. Pat asked, "Do you think Aunt Petunia will bring her famous potato salad?"

"I certainly hope so," said Pat’s Sister Polly.

After they had unpacked all of the food on the picnic table in the pavilion at the park, Dad lit the grill and began barbecuing the meat. Just then Aunt Petunia pulled up in her pink Pontiac. They could finally eat. Dad checked the temperature on the meat, just right! Aunt Petunia seemed positively perturbed. "The potato salad is still in the back of my car. Traffic was unbearable, and I made two or three pit-stops along the way, and it doesn’t help that my air conditioning isn’t working!" she cried.

Pat was more than pleased to retrieve the potato salad from the back seat of Aunt Petunia’s car. Pat felt the rush of heat as he opened the door. There sat the plastic bowl with only a thin layer of plastic wrap over it. As Pat reached for the bowl, he burned his hand on the black leather seat. Excited for his picnic feast, Pat ran with the salad to the table.

That night after the family returned from the fireworks show, everyone got ready for bed. Pat had such an eventful day, he fell right to sleep. Suddenly Pat woke up with a peculiar feeling. His stomach was cramping and he was about to puke. He ran to the bathroom, but he found that it was already occupied by another family member.

Can you determine which part of the picnic was not perfect after all? Click on the image of the picnic ingredient which you think caused the problem.



utah state board of education This Sci-ber Text was developed by the Utah State Board of Education and Utah educators.