10 tips for a healthy picnic

Summer is a popular time for eating outdoors. Though it's fun, it can pose some serious health risks if food safety is not considered.

In fact, foodborne illness is more prevalent in the summer months. Bacteria multiply quickly in the heat and it’s harder to control the food environment when cooking outdoors.

Here are my top 10 tips for a healthy and safe summer picnic:

Use MyPlate. This food icon is a simple guide to planning a healthy, balanced picnic meal. MyPlate reminds you to include lean protein, whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, plus a serving of dairy in your menu.

Pack a smart cooler. First, be sure to sanitize your cooler so that it is clean and safe to use. Then, pack it right before you hit the road. Pack its contents in reverse order: first pack what you will likely need last. This way, the items you need first will be on top.


Pack beverages separately. If you think about it, the beverage cooler is always the most popular and it is constantly opening and closing, which raises the temperature of the contents. This becomes dangerous if your potato salad or other potentially hazardous foods are sharing the same space. Let the beverages have their own cooler.

Keep your cooler cool. Leave your cooler in the shade to help control the temperature inside. Also consider where you store your cooler during transportation. Instead of throwing your cooler in the hot trunk, keep your cooler in the air-conditioned back seat.

Wash your hands. If you don’t have access to a clean, safe source of running water, be sure to pack a jug of water, hand soap and paper towels, or moist towelettes and hand sanitizer.

Clean the food prep area. Wipe down the tables, lay down clean tablecloths and use clean cutting boards.

Don’t cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry and fish away from ready-to-eat food. Pack extra plates so you don’t use the same plate to carry raw and cooked meat to and from the grill.

Pack a meat thermometer. The only way to be sure you cooked your food to the proper internal temperature is to use a meat thermometer. Color is not a good indicator.

Keep your cold food cold. Be sure to use lots of ice to cover your potentially hazardous cold foods. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of your cold foods. Cold food should be kept at 40 degrees or colder.

Watch the time. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. If the outdoor temperature is over 90 degrees, then the rule is less than one hour. Set an alarm on your cell phone to keep track of time. It is best to discard any food that has been out longer than these guidelines.

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