For some reason, food eaten outdoors under the sun tastes better. There is nothing like a burger or hot dog cooked on a grill
with a side of macaroni salad, coleslaw or watermelon to celebrate summer.
Unfortunately, the longer cooked and raw foods sit outside in the sun (such as at a Memorial Day picnic or any warm-weather
cookout) the higher the chance for food-borne bacteria to multiply. To keep you and your family safe this summer, we have
compiled a list of the 5 most common picnic hazards to avoid—along with our easy tips for safely preparing, cooking and
storing food for picnics.
Hazard #1: Keeping All the Food and Drinks in One Cooler
You should always have one cooler for food and one for drinks. This way, guests can take as many drinks as they want without
repeatedly exposing any raw or prepared food to the warm temperature outside. Within the cooler, it’s smart to store
everything in its own separate, resealable container. (Keep raw and cooked meat in separate containers and avoid reusing a
container that contained raw meat. If burgers are on the menu, store the raw beef patties in a tightly sealed plastic or
glass container. Bring along another clean plastic or glass container to hold the burgers once they are cooked.)
To pack your cooler, start with a layer of ice or cooler packs. Next store any raw or marinating meat in a tightly sealed
container. Layer from there with any dressed salads, slaws or condiments.
Hazard #2: You Keep Your Food at the Wrong Temperature
When you bring a dish to a picnic or potluck, make sure you keep it at the right temperature until you are ready to eat.
Remember this rule: keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Transport cool dishes (such as salads, slaws and uncooked
burgers) in a cooler and keep them there until you are ready to eat. If you leave perishable foods out of the refrigerator or
freezer for more than 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures hotter than 90°F) they may enter the Danger Zone—the unsafe
temperatures between 40° and 140°F in which bacteria multiply rapidly. Heat foods that are served warm before the meal and
transport them to the picnic in an insulated container. Keep grilled meat warm by moving it to the cool side of the grill. It
is fine to serve foods at room temperature, but it is not safe to keep foods that are meant to be served cold (or hot) at
room temperature for longer than 4 hours.
Hazard #3: You Don’t Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables Before Cutting or Serving
You should rinse any fruits before you eat them, including fruit you will cut, such as a watermelon. Rinse fruit under cold
water then dry with a clean towel. Store whole and cut fruits and fruit salad in a resealable container or bag in a cooler.
Follow the same steps for vegetables.
Hazard #4: The Grill Cook Guesses When the Meat Is Done
To be safe and prevent foodborne illness, cook meat to minimum temperatures recommended by the USDA. Use a digital
instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. Cook beef, pork, veal and lamb (steaks, chops and roasts), to
145°F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes (the temperature will continue to rise); cook fish and shellfish to 145°F,
ground meats to 160°F and all poultry (including ground) to 165°F.
Hazard #5: Not Cleaning Your Hands
You can pick up a lot of bacteria out in the world, so it’s important to always wash your hands with soap and warm water
before you eat or prepare food. We recommend washing your hands before and after handling raw meat. Make sure to bring along
hand sanitizer in case you find yourself at a picnic without any running water. You should also have a towel just for drying
your hands as well as a towel for cleaning up food messes.