Picnic Food Safety Tips

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When summer is in full swing, a top activity is picnicking and entertaining outdoors. For peace of mind, remember these food safety guidelines.

When summer is in full swing, a top summer activity is picnicking and entertaining outdoors. The bacteria that cause illness grow on moist, usually protein-based foods that are between 45º F and 140º F, so minimize the time you allow these foods to stay at these temperatures. For better peace of mind that you're serving safe food to your family and friends, keep the following food safety guidelines in mind.

If you're not traveling far and the food is nonperishable, you can pack your food in a brown paper bag, lunch box, or plastic tote. However, food containing meat, poultry, or fish, eggs and dairy products, mayonnaise or "creamy-type" dressings are very perishable and must remain thoroughly chilled in a picnic basket or backpack until just before serving time. Do not allow these foods to remain unchilled for more than 1 hour, and to sit in direct sun.

Wash your hands thoroughly before cooking, after touching raw meat, fish, or chicken, and especially after visiting the bathroom. Most food borne illnesses are related to improper handwashing after going to the bathroom. If handwashing facilities are not available, wet napkins or sanitizers will reduce the germs on your hands, but won't eliminate them.

Be mindful of temperature control:

  • Cook thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to check that meats and poultry are hot enough to kill any harmful bacteria. Minimum safe internal temperatures are:
    • hamburgers (ground meats and sausages, including pork sausages): 155º F
    • steaks and other beef, veal, lamb, fish and shellfish: 140º F
    • poultry: 165º F
    • pork (except pork sausage): 150º F
  • Keep hot foods hot. After cooking meat or chicken on the grill, keep it at 140º F or warmer until serving. If reheating fully cooked items such as baked beans or hot potato salad, head to 165º F.
  • Do not partially cook meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
  • Keep cold food cold. If you are using a cooler, keep it out of the sun and avoid opening it too often so it stays as cool as possible inside. Keep cold foods at 45º F or colder at all times.
  • Transport cold foods in a cooler to minimize bacteria growth. Use an insulated cooler with icepacks.

Don't cross-contaminate:

  • Don't cut vegetables or other ready-to-eat foods on the same cutting board as chicken or meat without thoroughly cleaning the knife and the cutting board first. Our recommendation for picnics, where proper washing facilities are not available, is to bring two separate cutting boards - one for meat, chicken, and fish, and the other for vegetables and other ready-to-eat foods.
  • Don't put cooked meat or poultry on the same platter that held the raw food.

Be careful with melons

  • Be sure to wash the melon rind before you cut into it to minimize pushing bacteria that is often associated with melons down into the flesh. Keep cantaloupe and other melons cold 45º F or colder.

Leftovers

  • Refrigerate food as soon as possible in shallow containers. Discard any food that has been out of the refrigerator for 4 or more hours.

Food poisoning and other food-borne illness may cause nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, headache, and diarrhea. If you are an adult, it will probably clear up by itself (follow your "sick-day" rules if you have diabetes). If the symptoms are severe or persist, contact your physician. If you suspect that a child has food poisoning or another food-borne illness, contact the child's doctor immediately.