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It’s a great summer pleasure to spread a picnic onto lush green grass under a big shady tree – whether it’s for a family reunion, church outing or just the spouse and kids.

But don’t forget about food safety when preparing your picnic lunch and packing it to transport to your favorite spot.

Recent statistics show about one-third of Americans will contact some food-borne microbe this year, and about 5,000 will die. One of America’s favorite pastimes, however, doesn’t have to go by the wayside as long as safety precautions are taken during food preparation, storage and transport.

“The main thing you need to remember is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. That’s one of our favorite sayings,” said Terri Kuebler, community worker a county extension family nutrition program.

Picnics begin at homeIt all begins at home when preparation for the picnic starts.

“Make sure you have the cold foods thoroughly chilled before you put them in a cooler,” Kuebler said.

If you’re a fried-chicken lover, plan on cooking up the chicken the night before and storing it overnight in the fridge. It’s easier, Kuebler said, than trying to keep the fried chicken at the necessary temperature – above 140 degrees in order to serve it hot at the picnic.

As for cold foods, they should be kept below 40 degrees. And neither cold nor hot foods should sit out at the picnic longer than an hour if temperatures are at or near 90 degrees outside. If it’s a cooler day, those foods could be out for up to two hours, Kuebler said.

“Make sure you pack the cooler solidly and with a lot of ice so that you don’t have a lot of airspace,” she said.

Airspace allows warm air in a cooler, so pack it tight using freezer gel packs and ice chunks. A towel can be put over everything in the cooler, allowing for more insulation.

“And don’t keep the cooler in the trunk of your car or the sun when you get to the picnic site. Put it in the shade,” Kuebler said.

For hot food, insulate hot dishes by wrapping them in layers of newspapers and towels.

“Keeping foods appropriately hot is probably more of a challenge for the normal person,” Kuebler said.

That said, picnickers should stick with food items that are easily chilled – cold cuts, raw vegetables and fruit.

Keep it simple“Keep it simple. A lot of these elaborate dishes with eggs and mayonnaise you may want to avoid,” she said.

“The days of going to family reunions where food sits out all day long with bugs crawling around and you eat on it all day long are long gone,” Kuebler said. “You really need to keep food covered, that’s very important.”

If you plan to take raw meat to grill, Kuebler said, make sure you transport it at the appropriate temperature – below 40 degrees – and that the meat is cooked to the right temperature to avoid any food-borne pathogens.

That means taking along an instant-read meat thermometer. Before serving the meat, check its temperature by inserting the thermometer 2 inches deep into cooked meat.

For a whole chicken, the internal temperature should be 180 degrees. Chicken breasts or other parts cooked individually should reach 170 degrees. All cuts of pork and hamburger should be cooked to 160 degrees.

Veal or lamb steaks should be cooked to 145 degrees, and beef steaks to 160 degrees. Even hot dogs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, Kuebler said.

Make sure to take two sets of utensils and dishes – one to handle the raw meat and another to handle and serve the cooked meat. And, through all of your preparation, wash your hands thoroughly, Kuebler said.

Take along warm water and soap to the picnic to wash hands with. Baby wipes are OK for washing hands. But the bottled sanitizer should not be used in place of washing hands; it is for use after hands have been washed.

“The biggest thing we can do is to get people to wash their hands for 20 seconds, including the top of the hands up to the wrist,” she said.

As for how to use that gorgeous picnic basket sitting in storage, “use the picnic basket to store utensils and plates, breads, the age-old chips – things that are prepackaged and do not require refrigeration,” Kuebler said.

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