Picnic Food Safety for July 4th

Picnics, BBQs and potluck gatherings are staples to summertime. They are great ways for family and friends to celebrate the season as well as each other. However, it is very easy to become too distracted and forget that neglected food served in the outdoor heat is dangerous, and it doesn’t take long for bacteria to grow and ruin the party. About one in six Americans become ill due to contaminated food each year, so there is much to be gained (and prevented) from a little crash course in proper food handling practices.

Picnic Food Safety

Packing and Transporting Foods

If food is not stored and transported with care, bacteria can quickly grow before the festivities even begin. When transporting food, cross-contamination can spoil an entire cooler if not stored in proper sealed, plastic containers. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria from raw, uncooked foods come into contact with plates, utensils, and other prepared foods. There are a few things to do to prevent cross-contamination from occurring.

  • Temperature. Keep cold foods cold while traveling which means always have plenty of ice for the cooler when traveling with them. The recommended temperature for food in a cooler is 40 degrees or lower to prevent bacteria from growing. Be sure to bring extra bags of ice for drinks and for when the ice in the cooler starts to melt. There is no such thing as too much ice during a summer outing.
  • Organization. Be sure to organize the cooler items to remove the chance for cross-contamination. Appropriately wrap raw meats and keep them placed underneath clean dishes, utensils, and cooked foods. Produce is to be washed before being placed in the cooler, and it keeps better if placed on top of meats and cooked food. It is also best to refrain from opening the cooler as much as possible.

Grilling or Cooking Foods

Cooking food outdoors requires constant attention. Several things can ruin a meal outdoors. Flare-ups, insects, weather conditions, hungry dogs, perhaps even Yogi Bear can all affect the outcome of a picnic. More importantly, contaminated food is something that can ruin someone’s entire weekend.

  • Cleanliness. First and foremost, food safety begins with washed hands. A lack of hand washing counts for one of the many causes of food poisoning. Hands must be washed with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing food. They also must be washed after directly handling raw meats and fish. Clean all food surfaces with antibacterial soap and water before use. Do not allow juices from meats and used marinades to come into contact with other foods and dining surfaces.
  • Temperature. Food must be cooked thoroughly cooked before serving. Color and texture alone will not guarantee that food is ready to be eaten, so bring a meat thermometer for an accurate reading of temperature. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and be sure not to allow the tip of the thermometer to touch any bone. Chicken needs to have an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees, and steaks (depending on preferred doneness) should read 130 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Serving Food

Proper food sanitation practices don’t end once the food is ready to be eaten. If anything, it is just as important to be on point with serving food to guests once the dinner bell has rung.

  • Presentation. Never reuse dirty dishes or utensils. Bacteria may have developed on them, and there is no way of being sure. It is best not to reuse surfaces that may have come into contact with raw meats at all. However, if no other options are available, at least make sure to sanitize everything with antibacterial soap and water before use thoroughly. Do not allow foods on the buffet line to come into contact with one another. People with food allergies may not be aware that something has come into contact with what they are eating, which can trigger an allergic reaction. Consider having an EpiPen available in case of an allergic reaction.
  • Temperature. It may have become clear by now that temperature is the underlying step throughout the whole picnic process to best prevent anyone from becoming sick from food poisoning. Dishes containing cold foods must be placed on ice (this is where the extra bags of ice come in handy) and kept at a temperature of no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Dishes such as potato salad are more prone to contamination because mayonnaise is a common ingredient in this dish. There is a stronger potential for bacteria growth when foods containing raw ingredients like mayonnaise are not appropriately chilled. Hot foods must maintain a temperature of no lower than 140 degrees while being served. Chefs often refer to any temperature ranging from 40 to 140 degrees as being in the ‘Danger Zone.’ Bacteria can quickly multiply and cause foodborne illness when left in the Danger Zone for too long. Do not allow food to sit in this range for more than one hour to be safe.

There is no better social gathering than a picnic during the summertime. By taking the time to know how not to sicken friends and family with contaminated food, everyone can rest assured knowing that they won’t be including an Emergency room visit into their Fourth of July weekend.

We hope that you have a wonderful July 4th! But if you happen to get a dose of bad potato salad, The Emergency Center is here for you. Do not hesitate to come to The Emergency Center right away.  The Emergency Center provides up to 23 hours of Observation and offers 24/7 care with NO WAITING. Visit The Emergency Center’s convenient 24-hour location in San Antonio.


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The Emergency Center

San Antonio
11320 Alamo Ranch Pkwy
San Antonio, TX 78253

Phone: 210-485-3644