Picnic Safety: Tips for Cooking Outdoors

By Dawna Bennett, MS, RD, CDN

Happy summer! It is officially picnic and barbecue season – the perfect opportunity for outdoor fun with family and friends. To ensure your outdoor event is memorable for all the right reasons, here are some important tips to consider to keep food safe:

Keeping Things Clean

  • Washing your hands is not only important before preparing foods, but also between handling raw and ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination or the transfer of bacteria. Washing with soap and warm water is best, but if that’s not available on your outing, take disposable hand wipes or antibacterial gel.
  • Take care to keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.
  • Clean coolers thoroughly with soap and water, and properly dry before filling with food.

Prevent Cross Contamination

  • Bring extra plates – one for handling raw foods and another for cooked foods.
  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator and do not reuse marinades used on raw meat unless boiled.

Cook to Proper Temperatures

  • Cook your favorite foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer. Hamburgers should reach at least 160°F and chicken breasts 165°F.
  • Never partially grill meat or poultry to finish cooking later.

Keep all Food Covered

  • Keep utensils and food covered until serving time. Certain insects carry bacteria and may even carry salmonella.

Store Foods Properly

  • Pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs to keep temperature below 40°F.
  • Transport the cooler in the back seat of your air-conditioned car instead of in the hot trunk.
  • Only remove the amount of raw meat from the cooler that will fit on the grill at one time.
  • Defrost meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator before taking them to the grill.
  • Don’t leave food outside in hot weather (90°F or above) for more than one hour.
  • Foods like chicken salad and desserts in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace frequently.

Take Care with Leftovers

  • When people finish eating, quickly put food back into coolers or a refrigerator.
  • When storing food in coolers, use lots of ice. It’s hard to keep the temperature of food in coolers below 40 degrees.
  • If you have leftover cooked food, refrigerate it within two hours. Once home, reheat leftover food thoroughly to above 167 °F before eating.

For more information on how to stay safe and healthy this summer head to the websites of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and FDA.gov. Have a wonderful summer and remember to stay well hydrated while out in the sunshine!