5 Food Safety Tips for Summer Picnics

By: Katie Serbinski, MS, RDN

July is celebrated as National Picnic Month. The fresh air plus the variety garden vegetables and fruits in-season in Michigan during the warm summer months make outdoor eating easier. Whether we pack meals for tailgating at sporting events, an afternoon get-away or a weekend of camping, picnics provide an excellent way to enjoy the company of friends and family away from home. Our team at the Michigan Agriculture Council has put together 5 food safety tips to help you remember items you won’t want to forget this summer. Spend all the time you want outdoors with family and friends, but don’t forget food safety on the way. 

    1. Bring plenty of soap or hand sanitizer. Hand washing is one of the most important tips when it comes to food prep and handling. Wash your hands with soap and/or hand sanitizer before and after handling food, especially raw meats. Cutting boards should be cleaned well by either putting them in the dishwasher or clean with soap and hot water.
    2. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Keeping food at proper temperatures — indoor and out — is critical in preventing the growth of food borne 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 food borne illness.
    3. Use a food thermometer. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food you cook, especially grilled meats. 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.
    4. Don’t cross-contaminate. 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. Keep coolers 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.
    5. Clean your 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 washed.

After the clean-up, you might be tempted to pack up leftovers and send them home with your guests. If you do, remind your guests that the food should be eaten within three or four days. Throw out anything that may be questionable or left sitting out too long. Just remember: When in doubt, throw it out!