Avoid Food Poisoning During Summer Picnics

parents with daughters having picnic

Brittany Behm
Brittany Behm, Public Affairs Specialist, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases

When I think about summer picnics, I think about family. I think about my cousins, aunts, uncles, kids running around, a pavilion, and an enormous buffet table loaded with delicious food. The quantity of side dishes and desserts is exceeded only by the number of dad jokes we’re forced to endure. Since I’ve been working with foodborne disease, I’ve made a point to share tips with family members who are preparing food so we can avoid getting sick from food poisoning.
Let’s enjoy National Picnic Month by taking a few simple steps:

Keep foods cool

Rates of food poisoning increase in summer months because bacteria grow faster in warmer weather. Eating food left in the Danger Zone (40°F to 140°F) for too long can make people sick.

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood chilled until ready to grill, in the fridge or in an insulated cooler, below 40°F.
  • Put leftovers in the freezer or fridge within two hours of cooking –or ONE hour if above 90°F outside.
  • Throw away any remaining perishable food that isn’t refrigerated.

Cook meat thoroughly

It’s important to cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Never partially grill meat and finish cooking it later.

  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked hot enough to kill germs. You can’t tell just by looking at it! (145°F for beef, pork, fish; 160°F for hamburgers and ground meat; 165°F for chicken or turkey).
  • If you’re smoking meat, keep the temperature inside the smoker at 225°F to 300°F.
  • Keep cooked meats hot and out of the Danger Zone before serving.

Clean hands and produce

  • Wash fresh vegetables and lettuce. If you’re not sure whether water will be available to wash on site, rinse produce before packing for the picnic.
  • Wash your hands before handling any food AND after touching raw meat, poultry, or seafood. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean work surfaces, utensils, and the grill before and after cooking.
  • Examine the grill surface carefully for bristles that might have dropped off the grill brush. They could get into your cooked food and hurt you if swallowed.

Separate raw from cooked

You never want bacteria from raw meat or seafood to contaminate other foods, surfaces, or utensils.

  • Throw away or thoroughly cook marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat or seafood.
  • Put cooked meat on a clean plate.
  • Keep raw meats, poultry, and seafood away from cooked and ready-to-eat food and drinks.
  • Don’t use the same utensils on raw foods and cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

This summer, I’m going to work hard to try to avoid being one of the 48 million Americans who get food poisoning every year. Let’s raise a glass of iced tea to well-cooked burgers, rinsed veggies, and chilled fruit salad!

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