an outdoor picnic with blanket, basket and food

10 Food Safety Tips for a Food Safe Picnic

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Grab your basket, picnic blanket and favorite picnic foods and enjoy the great outdoors during National Picnic Month! Picnics are a wonderful opportunity for enjoying the outdoors with food, fun and activity with family and friends. The warm weather is ideal for picnics and barbecues, but also a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and make you sick. To avoid foodborne illness during your outdoor festivities, consider the following food safety tips for a food safe picnic.

Why Be Food Safe?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses yearly. (1) Foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria and viruses that you cannot see, smell or taste that contaminate your food. Symptoms can be mild or severe depending on the bacteria or virus. With warmer temperatures and more outdoor eating, the rates of foodborne illness increase.

10 Tips for a Food Safe Picnic

The most effective way to prevent foodborne illness is to follow the four core food safety principles: clean, separate, cook and chill. (2) By keeping these principles in mind, you can have a food safe picnic.

  1. Keep it clean. Clean your hands, surfaces, and utensils with clean, wet cloths and paper towels or moist towelettes. Bring hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes to keep everything clean especially if you do not have access to soap and water.
  2. Use separate plates, containers, and utensils for preparing, cooking, and eating. Don’t cross contaminate! Do not reuse a container or utensil that touched raw food for cooked foods.
  3. Keep cold food cold by putting foods in a cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Fill the cooler to capacity so it keeps a cold temperature. Also limit the number of times you open the cooler to keep items colder longer.
  4. Pack two coolers. One for drinks and another for cold food items. The beverage cooler will be opened often meaning the beverages will get warmer faster.
  5. Keep your picnic basket and cooler organized. Pack foods in reverse order – pack the foods you are going to eat last at the bottom. This will help keep all your foods at temperature.  
  6. Consider packing non-perishable foods that do not require refrigeration such as crackers, pretzels, nuts, and washed fruit.
  7. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. If it is hotter than 90°F than food should not sit out more than one hour. Temperature and time increase the risk of germs.
  8. Transport the cooler in the vehicle rather than the trunk. The trunk is the hottest part of the car and depending on the driving distance, your cooler may not stay cool in the trunk.
  9. Planning to grill at your picnic? Whether you use a bottled marinade or a homemade marinade make sure to marinate your foods in the refrigerator and not on the counter at home.
  10. Use a food thermometer to make sure all cooked foods reach a safe internal temperature. Undercooked foods can lead to illness!

Enjoy the Outdoors, Not the Germs

Picnics are a terrific opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with food, fun, and activity with family and friends. When hitting the road for picnics it is important to follow basic food safety rules to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. From preparing and transporting the food to cooking and eating, keep food safety in mind. Remember the food safety tips to keep your picnics healthy and safe this summer! Let me know in the comments if you plan on having an outdoor picnic this summer.

3 thoughts on “10 Food Safety Tips for a Food Safe Picnic”

  1. Char-Lynn Mozelle

    The 10 Tips for safekeeping of cold foods and the importance in keeping them cool were very informative and definitely should be adhered to.. Thanks for these tips for having a safe and fun barbecue experience..

  2. Great tips for hydration . I especially liked the comment on amount of water a child should have. Always been confused in just how much they should have. I know that I am under hydrated and this will definitely help me on food shopping. Keep the good work up it is needed.

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