Picnic Food Safety
Picnic and barbecue season offers lots of opportunities for outdoor fun with family and friends. But these warm weather events also present opportunities for food-borne bacteria to thrive. To protect yourself, your family, and friends from foodborne illness during warm-weather months, safe food handling when eating outdoors is critical. As food heats up in summer temperatures, bacteria multiply rapidly. 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.
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.
Keep Cold Foods Cold
Cold perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 40°F or below until serving time.
- Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer.
- Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable food 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 temperatures.
- 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.
- Foods 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.
- Once you've served it, it 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.
Keep Hot Foods Hot
- Hot food should be kept hot, at or above 140°F.
- Keep "ready" food hot. Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container until serving. 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.
- 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.
Thaw and Cook Foods to Proper Temperatures
- If you partially cook food to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.
- 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. Don’t reuse marinade.
- When it’s time to cook the food, have your food thermometer ready. Always use it to be sure your food is cooked thoroughly.
Keep Hands and Surfaces Clean
- If you don’t have access to running water, simply use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Or, use moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands. If you desire, follow this with a hand sanitizer but not instead of cleaning your hands.
- Take care to keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.
- 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.
- In storage, be sure to keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
- When serving, never re-use 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.
- Keep a separate cooler for ice for drinks and don’t use it store anything else.