Beautiful sunny days are perfect for enjoying an outdoor picnic or barbecue. But warm weather also increases the risk of bacteria in our favorite foods.

Protect your family and friends from foodborne illness with these tips.

How to Pack Your Picnic

  • Wash your hands! If you won’t have a bathroom close by, pack a water bottle and soap for cleaning hands and cutting boards. You can also pack wet wipes or hand sanitizer and use those before and after you touch food.
  • Separate your coolers. Pack drinks in one cooler and foods in another. This helps keep food at the right temperature.
  • Keep cold food cold. Use ice and frozen gel packs to keep your cooler at 40°F or below. Keep meats, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs, lunch meat and cheese in a cooler. Wrap any raw meat and seafood tightly, and place them at the bottom of your cooler. When you get to your picnic spot, keep your coolers in the shade if you can.
  • Clean fruits and vegetables at home. Rinse and dry all fresh produce under running tap water before adding it to the cooler. Even wash fruits and vegetables with skins that you won’t eat, such as oranges.

How to Serve Your Food

  • Serve cold foods cold. Keep all foods that should stay cold, such as salads, cut fruits, lunch meat, cheese and yogurt, in the cooler until you are ready to eat it.
  • Place cold foods on ice. Serving plates or bowls for foods such as chicken salad and desserts should sit on top of a deep pan filled with ice.
  • Know how long your food can sit out. Both cold and hot foods should sit out for only two hours—only one hour if the temperature is over 90°F. If these foods are left out for longer than that, throw them away.  
  • Separate, separate, separate! If you’re grilling, never use the same platter or utensils for both raw and cooked foods. Do not use the same cutting surface for fruits or vegetables as you did for raw meat or fish.
  • Check the temperature. Use a food thermometer to make sure your food reaches a safe temperature.

If you would like information about food safety, including safe grilling temperatures, sent to you via email or mail, contact the Center for Families Resource Library at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The Center for Families Resource Library is 100-percent funded by generous donations to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation.


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