Perfectly Pleasing Picnics
By Howard Seltzer, National Education Advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration
Picnics and barbecues with family and friends are part of summer fun. Make sure they stay fun by remembering that foodborne bacteria can multiply rapidly in summer temperatures. To protect against foodborne illness when eating outdoors, follow these simple food safety guidelines for transporting your food, preparing, and serving it safely
- 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.
- Keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.
- Keep cold food cold. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer.
- Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another, so that frequent opening of the beverage cooler won’t expose the perishable foods to warm outdoor air temperatures
- Don’t cross-contaminate. It’s best to have a separate cooler for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, but if you don’t, make sure they are securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating already prepared foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
Going to the Picnic
- Put cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs for transport. Cold food should be stored at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer.
- Carry coolers in the passenger compartment of your car, not in the much warmer trunk.
When You Get There
- Hand cleaning is key to food safety— including outdoor settings. If you don’t have access to running water, simply use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Or, consider using moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.
- Keep coolers closed as much as you can to keep the contents cold longer.
- Once served, cold food should not sit out for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90° F. If it does - throw it away.
- Hot food should be kept hot, at or above 140° F. Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container until serving.
- Just like cold food - hot foods should not sit out for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour in temperatures above 90° F. If does, again, throw it away to be safe.
Safe Grilling Tips
Just as when cooking indoors, there are important steps to ensure that your grilled food is safe.
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator - never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. If you will 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.
- Cook immediately after "partial cooking." If you partially cook food to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill. Cook food thoroughly. When it’s time to cook the food, have your food thermometer ready. Always use it to be sure your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- Keep cooked food hot. Move cooked grilled food to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals to keep it hot until served.
- Don't reuse platters or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood because bacteria from the raw food’s juices can spread to the cooked food. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.
- Check for foreign objects in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle brush, check to make sure that no detached bristles have made their way into the grilled food.
For more information, see FDA’s Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely