No ants, no bees, no food poisoning! What better way to celebrate a beautiful summer day than with a picnic outside at the park, at the beach or even in your own backyard. Here are some tips to keep your picnic perfectly safe:
Plan ahead so you don’t forget essential items such as a food thermometer, cooler chest with ice, plenty of clean utensils, storage containers for leftovers, paper towels, and trash bags. Find out ahead of time if you’ll have running water, grills, picnic tables, and trash receptacles at the site.
In preparation for your picnic, don’t thaw meat on the counter overnight—that’s not safe. Thaw food in the refrigerator or cook from the frozen state. Cooking frozen meat or poultry will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry. Don’t partially cook meat and poultry ahead of time. That can be risky. It’s safest to cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature at the picnic.
For a worry-free picnic, place perishable foods, such as hot dogs, burgers, poultry, deviled eggs, and macaroni or potato salads in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer gel packs. They need to be kept cold.
When you arrive at the picnic site, the first task is to wash your hands before preparing food. If running water is not available, use disposable wet wipes or hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after touching food.
Don’t leave foods out in the sun. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade. Serve food quickly from the cooler and return it fast. In hot weather, above 90F, food shouldn’t sit out of the cooler over an hour.
Cook meat and poultry to a safe temperature as measured with a food thermometer. Just because a hamburger looks done on the outside doesn’t mean it is done on the inside. Use your food thermometer to be sure!
Serve food items from the grill on a clean platter. Don’t use the same plate and utensils for cooked food that were used for the raw food. Use a clean plate and utensil set for cooked food.
Don’t forget to unpack that cooler as soon as you return home. Refrigerate leftover meats and salads which have stayed cold; discard if they have become warm.
- Barbecue and Food Safety (USDA)
- The Big Thaw—Safe Thawing Methods (USDA)
- Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely (FDA)
- Pack a Family Picnic! PDF (299k)(USDA)
The good news is that the National Weather Service says that competing climate factors suggest a less active hurricane season this year compared to many in recent years. The bad news is that it doesn’t take a hurricane to knock power out. Spring and summer storms often do it very effectively.
But, even when the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer can help you and your family avoid food poisoning, but only if you are ready for the emergency and know how to react.
- Make sure that you have appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer. That’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe after a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.
- If there are warnings of a severe storm on the way, freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags. They are small enough to fit in around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold and won’t make a mess when the ice melts. Don’t fill them too full or they might split because water expands when it freezes.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Be sure to have a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling
When the Power Goes Out
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed.
- A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other.
- Place meat and poultry to one side or on a tray so if they begin thawing their juices will not get on other foods.
- If the power is going to be out for a long time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
When Power Comes Back
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
- With frozen food, check for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe .
See these charts to help you evaluate specific foods
- Refrigerated Foods: When to Save and When to Throw Out
- Frozen Food and Power Outages: When to Save and When to Throw Out
For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources:
- What Consumers Need to Know About Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods (FDA)
- In an Emergency (FoodSafety.gov)
Questions received to USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline about grilling meat and poultry increase during spring and summer months. In anticipation of the unofficial beginning of the summer grilling season on Memorial Day weekend, I have put together some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive about grilling.
Do you have guidelines for buying meat and poultry? What's the best way to handle them safely?
- At the store, choose packages that are not torn. Make sure they feel cold. If possible, put them in a plastic bag so leaking juices won't drip on other foods.
- Make fresh meats the last items to go into your shopping cart. Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart.
- Have the cashier bag raw meat separately from other items, and plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.
How should I store fresh (raw) meats at home?
Refrigerate or freeze fresh meats and poultry as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows the growth of bacteria. They can be refrigerated or frozen in the original packaging if you plan to use them soon.
- If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use ground meats and poultry within one or two days; and beef, veal, pork and lamb steaks, roasts and chops within five days.
- For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Meat and poultry will be safe indefinitely if kept frozen at 0 °F, but will lose quality over time. Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart
- Never leave raw meat, poultry, or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour at 90 °F and above).
Is It Done Yet? How can I tell when my meats are safely cooked?
Meat and poultry should be cooked to a safe temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Color of meat and poultry is not a good indicator of safety. Use a food thermometer to make sure meats have reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Safe Cooking Temperatures
- NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
- Keep Hot Food Hot! After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. If you are at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.
I worry about my father-in-law forgetting to take a clean plate to the grill for cooked meat and poultry. Is it safe to use the same plate for raw and cooked meats?
No, to prevent food borne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food. You can either use a clean plate for the cooked meat or wash the one that held the raw meat.
Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked meat and poultry?
Yes, if you refrigerated them promptly after cooking (within two hours; one hour if the temperature is above 90 °F), they can be safely refrigerated for about three or four days. If frozen, they should keep good quality for about four months.
For more information on the safe preparation, handling and grilling of meat and poultry, check out these resources in English and Spanish:
If you have any other questions about grilling meat and poultry, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov