Picnic basket lunch on the river.

Summer will be here soon and everyone will be busy planning cookouts. Picnics, barbecues and potlucks are wonderful ways to celebrate a family get together, holiday or just time to relax and enjoy grilled food! Whatever you plan take care to prepare and transport food safely. It doesn’t matter how simple or elaborate your cook out is the key is: always remember to follow food safety guidelines. A little planning and following safety tips will help prevent food borne illnesses. Bacteria begin to multiply between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, so it’s important to keep food either cold or hot right up to the moment of cooking and/or serving. Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential in preventing foodborne illness because you cannot see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness.

Washing hands for 20 seconds. Make sure to wash between your fingers.

Food safety always begins with proper hand washing, and this includes the outdoor setting. Washing your hands for 20 seconds and drying them on a clean towel or paper towel is the first step in preventing a food borne illness. So, before you begin preparing food, setting out your picnic foods, make sure hands and surfaces are clean. Outdoor hand cleaning: If you don’t have access to running water, use a water jug, soap and paper towels. If these items are not available use an alcohol based hand sanitizer for cleaning your hands.

Selecting Ideal Picnic Foods:
  • Keep in mind not all food are picnic-appropriate.
  • Anything that contains a lot of perishable ingredients and/or requires a lot of preparation should be avoided.
  • Select foods that require little or no cooking and that contain just a few ingredients.
  • Ideal picnic foods include: fruits and vegetables (especially whole ones), hard cheeses, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, bread, and crackers.
Pack and Transport Safely:
  • Take only the amount of food that will be eaten so you won’t have to worry about leftovers.
  • Make sure your cooler will keep foods at 40 degrees F, or plan foods that are less perishable.
  • Put the cooler in the inside of the vehicle rather than the hot trunk or bed of truck. Keep it in the shade at your destination and replenish ice often to keep temperature at 40 degrees F.
  • Pack mayonnaise based salads in several small containers instead of one big serving bowl and condiments in small containers. Smaller units chill faster and can be used as needed, while the other stays cold.

    Always follow the 2 hour rule and food safety guidelines to keep food safe!
  • Cook food should be chilled thoroughly before putting it in the cooler.
  • A dish of hot food should be wrapped in aluminum foil and towels to keep it above 140 degrees F. Keep in mind the 1 or 2 hour rule if travel time is long!
  • Don’t partially precook meat or poultry before transporting: if it must be precooked, cook until done then chill before packing in the cooler.
Grilling Tips:
  • Be sure all utensils, plates and cooking surfaces are clean, and your hands are washed well before handling food.
  • Do not take more food out of the cooler than you are going to cook at a time.
  • When meat is cooked, transfer to a clean plate or platter never place cooked meat on the same platter which held raw meat.
  • USDA recommends fully cooking meats to ensure bacteria is destroyed.
  • Never reuse marinades that have come in contact with raw meat, chicken or fish, and don’t put the cooked food back into an unwashed container or the dish that contained the marinade.
  • Defrost meat in the refrigerator before grilling.

Always Remember: Prevent cross-contamination when serving. NEVER reuse a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood for serving. Unless they have been washed in hot, soapy water, you can spread the bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked or ready-to-eat food.

Ground meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F
Safe Grilling Internal Temperatures:
  • To be sure bacteria are destroyed, hamburgers and ribs should be cooked to 160 degrees F or until the center is no longer pink and juices are clear. Cook ground poultry to 165 degrees F and poultry parts to 165 degrees F. Reheat pre-cooked/leftovers to 165 degrees F.
  • Here is a link Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Charts

For more information contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office

Related links:
Food Safety at Tailgating (University of Florida/IFAS)
Checklist for the Perfect Summer Picnic (




Posted: June 15, 2020

Category: Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, UF/IFAS Extension,
Tags: Food, Food Safety, Health And Wellness, UF/IFAS Extension

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