Packing a Safe Summer Picnic

Packing a Safe Summer Picnic

Question: I like to go on picnics during the summer. How do I make sure to keep my food safe?

Answer: Picnics are a fun way to enjoy the summer weather and your favorite picnic foods. However, food bugs reproduce rapidly in warm weather and can cause illness. Being aware of the time food spends in warm weather can help keep food safe. 

Foods that need to be kept cold (or hot) have a specific window of time when they’re safe to eat. After these specific time periods, foods can start to grow harmful bacteria that can make you and your fellow picnickers sick. Food can remain at room temperature for up to 2 hours. If it’s a very hot day (above 90 oF), then the maximum time is 1 hour. After that, food should be tossed.

Making sure foods are kept at the proper temperature before and during a picnic is one way to keep bacteria out of the party. Bacteria thrive at temperatures between 41oF and 135oF, so you want to keep food out of that temperature zone. Before setting out to your picnic, make sure to keep cold food in the refrigerator at 41oF or below. To keep foods cold during transit, use a cooler filled with ice or ice packs instead of a wicker picnic basket. Unpack small amounts of food at a time and keep food in a shady spot.

If you take hot food with you, make sure it has been cooked to the appropriate temperature by using a thermometer. Use insulated containers help keep food warmer longer. If you’re planning on grilling, make sure to pack raw meats in a separate cooler from ready-to-eat foods. The last thing you want is raw juices all over your gorgeous side salads.

Other Things to Consider
Foods like sliced melons, sliced tomatoes, cheese, and lunch meats need to be kept cold. Any type of combined or mayo-based salads like pasta, potato, chicken, and tuna need to be kept cold also.

Don’t forget to incorporate travel time into the “safe to eat” window. It can be helpful to label foods with the time they need to be discarded.

A summer picnic should be fun and relaxing. Following these tips can help keep food safe!

TELL TOBY: How do you keep your picnic fare safe?

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