Picnics offer lots of opportunities for outdoor fun with family
and friends. But these warm weather events also present
opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. As food heats up in
summer temperatures, bacteria multiply rapidly. To protect
yourself, your family, and friends from foodborne illness during
warm-weather months, safe food handling when eating outdoors is
critical. Read on for simple food safety guidelines for
transporting your food to the picnic site, and preparing and
serving it safely once you've arrived.
Pack and Transport Food
Keep your food safe: from the
refrigerator/freezer . . . all the way to your picnic
Quick Tips for Picnic Site
Food safety begins with proper hand cleaning ― including outdoor
settings. Before you begin setting out your picnic feast, make sure
hands and surfaces are clean.
cleaning. If you don't have access to running
water, simply use a water jug, some soap and paper towels. Or,
bring moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands and
Utensils and serving
dishes. Keep all utensils and platters clean
when preparing food.
Keep cold food
cold. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or
frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40°F or below to
prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry and seafood may be packed
while still frozen so they stay colder longer.
contents. Pack beverages in one cooler and
perishable foods in another. That way, as picnickers open and
reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the
perishable foods won't be exposed to warm outdoor air
closed. Once at the picnic site, limit the number
of times the cooler is opened as much as you can. This helps to
keep the contents cold longer.
cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry and
seafood securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from
contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be served
raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under
running tap water before packing them in the cooler
― including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub
firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub
with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.
Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper
towel. Packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled
"ready-to-eat," "washed," or "triple washed" need not be
Follow Safe Grilling
Grilling and picnicking often go hand-in-hand. And just as with
cooking indoors, there are important guidelines that should be
followed to ensure that your grilled food reaches the table
safely. Marinate foods in the refrigerator
― never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if
you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food,
reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat,
poultry, or seafood. DO NOT reuse marinade.
Cook immediately after
"partial cooking." If you partially cook food to
reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the
thoroughly. When it's time to cook the food, have
your food thermometer ready. Always use it to make sure your food
is cooked thoroughly.
Keep "ready" food
hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by
moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals.
This keeps it hot but prevents overcooking.
Don't reuse platters or
utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that
previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood allows bacteria from
the raw food's juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a
clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your
Check for foreign objects
in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle
brush, check to make sure that no detached bristles have made their
way into grilled food.
Warning: Prevent "Cross-Contamination" When
Serving. Never reuse a plate or utensils that
previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for serving ― unless
they've been washed first in hot, soapy water. Otherwise, you can
spread bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked or ready-to-eat
food. This is particularly important to remember when serving
cooked foods from the grill.
Serving Picnic Food: Keep
COLD Food COLD / Keep HOT Food HOT
Keeping food at proper temperatures ― indoor and out
― is critical in preventing the growth of foodborne bacteria.
The key is to never let your picnic food remain in the "Danger
Zone" (between 40° F and 140° F) for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour
if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F. This is when bacteria in
food can multiply rapidly, and lead to foodborne
illness. Instead, follow these simple rules for keeping cold
foods cold and hot foods hot.
- Cold perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 40° F or
below until serving time.
- Once you've served it, cold food should not sit out for longer
than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90° F.
If it does, discard it.
- 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.
- Hot food should be kept hot, at or above 140° F.
- Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container until
- Just as with cold food ― these foods should not sit out
for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour in temperatures above 90° F. If
food is left out longer, throw it away to be safe.
Stop by your neighborhood Fiesta to find all the makings of a
fabulous summer picnic. Also, take a look at our Recipe Corner for new and exotic recipes
to create for your next family outing.
Everyone can practice safe food handling by
following these four simple steps: