By Sina D’Amico, RDN, LDN
The warm weather is finally here to stay, and that means getting together outside as much as possible. Not to mention, enjoying a mid-day picnic or holding a weekend outdoor party can become more and more frequent. From my own experience, the food options are endless at these gatherings. From pasta salad to hamburgers and hotdogs, the picnic foods usually take over an entire table.
There’s a lot to consider when hosting an outdoor picnic, especially when it comes to the food. For starters, the cold salads don’t mix with the summer sun, and any grilled items need to be cooked enough. Those may only be some of many things you start to consider before hosting an outdoor picnic. To help prepare for the rest of the summer, keep these food safety tips in mind before your next outdoor picnic.
Wash your hands
This rule always applies no matter where you are. Washing your hands prior to handling food, especially any raw items, will help keep your picnic clean. Even if you grab an item out of a cooler, it’s still a smart idea to wash your hands. Being outside can be messy, so it’s better to be safe when food comes into play.
Only let hot and cold food items sit out for so long
This tip is fairly straightforward – you want hot items to be hot and cold items to be cold. The tricky part is to not let the cold items get too warm and vice versa. A general rule of thumb is to not let foods sit out for longer than two hours. In extreme heat (above 90℉), this number lowers to one hour. This helps to keep food from entering the danger zone, which ranges from 40℉ – 140℉. Anything between these would put items at risk for bacterial growth.
Bring a food thermometer
Whether your picnic food is premade or you’re preparing it onsite, keeping track of the temperature is important. This helps keep the food out of the danger zone and ensures that any raw foods are cooked to their proper internal temperature.
Cook raw food thoroughly
Chances are your picnic will involve something being cooked on the grill. This means that your protein item will be raw and will need to be fully cooked before it’s served. Traditional items such as hamburgers will need to be cooked to 160℉ and chicken needs to be cooked to 165℉. Items such as salmon and steak will need to be cooked to 145℉.
Organize your coolers by content
Portable coolers are the easiest way to transport food and beverages when hosting an outdoor picnic. When packing them, make sure to keep your beverages in one cooler and your food items in a separate cooler. Now every time a friend or family member wants a drink, they can open the designated cooler. This limits the amount of times the cold food cooler is opened and closed, causing the items inside to warm up.
Keep these food safety tips in mind for your next outdoor picnic – whether it’s something small or a larger gathering with friends and family!
Ellis, E. (2020, July 16). How to Prevent 7 Food Safety Picnic Mistakes. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/lifestyle/seasonal/how-to-prevent-7-picnic-food-safety-mistakes
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2019, April 12). Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart. Food Safety. https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018, September 18). Handling Food Safely While Eating Outdoors. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/handling-food-safely-while-eating-outdoors
Sina D’Amico is a Sports Dietitian Fellow at the University of Maryland where she works with Women’s Tennis, Women’s Lacrosse and assists with Football. She works to ensure that the athletes are learning sustainable fueling habits for both in and out of season.