Picnic Food Safety

Jodee Redmond
women and children on a picnic

Eating out of doors is an enjoyable outdoor activity for many people, and observing proper picnic food safety practices will lower the risk of illness.

Hazards in Picnic Foods

There are a few reasons why picnic foods can be hazardous to your health. Lack of refrigeration is one issue. When food that is meant to be kept cold sits out for a time, harmful bacteria has a chance to grow. The longer that food sits out, the greater the likelihood that consuming it will lead to illness.

When hot foods are not cooled quickly after cooking, this practice can create an environment that promotes the growth of bacteria. Cooked food that is going to be used at a picnic should be placed in shallow pans and refrigerated right away.

When picnic foods are being handled by multiple people, either during the preparation or serving stages, it creates the potential for a food-related illness. Common items served on these occasions, such as salads made with mayonnaise, hamburger patties and cut fruits, can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Picnic Food Safety Tips

Before you start to prepare any foods that will be served on a picnic, wash and dry your hands thoroughly.

Make sure that your work surface is clean. Check the utensils and containers that you will be using to prepare food to make sure they are clean as well. Plan to cook and prepare the foods you will be serving on the picnic no more than 24 hours before the event. Pre-cooked food should be spread out in shallow pans so that the temperature can be lowered quickly. If you need to thaw out food items, do so in the refrigerator.

Using mayonnaise doesn't lead to bacteria growth; it's too acidic to support bacteria. When this ingredient is mixed with other foods, bacteria can start to grow if food is not refrigerated.

If you are planning to serve cut fruit, such a melons, it needs to be kept cold. Salmonella bacteria can grow on watermelons and cantaloupe, and the bacteria may be found on the rind. The melon should be washed thoroughly before cutting. Once it has been cut, the pieces need to be refrigerated to stop bacteria growth.

Packing Food for the Picnic

When packing food for the picnic, you need to make sure that hot food stays hot and cold food stays cold. Use an insulated cooler or container and add ice or frozen cold packs to keep the temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You can make your own ice block by freezing water in milk cartons or a plastic container.

To keep the cold food dry, store them in waterproof containers. You can also wrap the food in foil or plastic wrap. Place the gel packs or ice blocks in between the packages of food. Do not place your food on top of the ice.

Don't place the cooler in the trunk of your vehicle. During the heat of summer, the temperature in this part of the car can reach over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you arrive at the picnic area, place a blanket over the cooler and keep it in a shaded area. The cooler should be kept closed until it's time to serve the food to preserve the coldness.

If you are planning to transport hot food to the picnic area, wrap these items in towels and then a layer of newspaper to keep the heat in. Once this step has been completed, put the food inside a box or a heavy paper bag. If you don't put the hot food on the grill on arrival, plan to eat the hot food within an hour. Pack some moist towelettes and have everyone clean off their hands before eating. You should also include plenty of utensils so that there is no chance of an item that may have come into contact with raw foods being used.


Another aspect of picnic food safety you need to keep in mind is that food items should be kept covered before serving. You want to avoid the food being contaminated by insects.

Picnic Food Safety