- Bacteria grow and multiply rapidly in the danger zone between 40° F and 140° F (out of the refrigerator or before food begins to cook). Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of food borne illness.
- It's essential to keep hot food hot and cold food cold throughout the duration of your picnic. Already-hot summertime temperatures can spike higher in direct sunlight. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than 2 hours, or 1 hour when the outside temperature is above 90° F.
- Hot foods should be held warm at temperatures above 140º F and cold foods should be held below 40º F.
- Many foods at picnics require a lot of preparation, like chopping vegetables for a salad, the handling of food in preparation also increases the risk of bacteria growth if not kept at the appropriate temperature.
What foods to pay attention to:
- Raw or frozen hamburger patties, hotdogs and chicken should be kept cold and on ice, or hot if cooked and prepared. Potato salad, macaroni salad, broccoli salad, and chicken or tuna salads made with mayonnaise-based dressings should be kept cold. Other popular picnic foods that need to be cold include dressings and dips, deli meats and sandwiches, soft cheeses and even melons like watermelon and cantaloupe.
- Items which don't require refrigeration include most fruits, vegetables, canned meat or fish, chips, bread, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard and pickles. You don't need to pack them in a cooler. Keep sliced fruit below 40º F. Hard cheeses above about 70º F start to decrease in quality.
How to be food safe at a picnic:
- The Cooler: Don't stock the cooler until immediately before leaving home. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car when traveling (not the trunk, it can be an oven in the hot summertime!). Store coolers in the shade whenever possible, under the picnic table or cover with a blanket. Keep the lid closed and avoid repeated openings. Replenish the ice if it melts.
- The Grill: If you plan to use a grill on your picnic, remember to pack a food thermometer. Check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When reheating food at the outing, be sure it reaches 165° F. Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature.
- Take Out: If bringing hot take-out food such as fried chicken or barbecue, eat it within two hours of purchase and then put in cooler with ice that hasn’t melted. Or plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing it into an insulated cooler.
What about leftovers?
- Because most picnic leftovers have been sitting out for more than 1 hour and have had many people handling them, throw them out. The more time that food has been sitting at an unsafe temperature, the more likely that harmful bacteria has grown. Discard any leftovers that have not remained cold.
- Cold foods kept in a cooler that still has ice may be safe. If the ice is melted, throw out the food. Cold water cannot keep foods cold enough to be safe.
Go to www.foodsafety.gov for more information.
Contributors: Carrie Dent, MU Nutrition Intern & Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org, 573-882-1933