A picnic party in the park or beach always sounds like such a nice idea. You pack a basket and enjoy a meal on a blanket. Picnics can be fun, relaxing and even a little romantic. Unfortunately, there's a chance they can also make you sick.
If you’re planning to bring food that will remain outdoors for several hours, choose foods that won’t wilt, melt, or spoil easily in the heat. Harvard University researchers recommend fresh firm vegetables (raw or cooked), chopped fruit, whole grains, pasta salad, beans, and trail mix.
The last thing you want is to end up spending your picnic time in the emergency department, so here are five additional tips to keep your picnics safe.
Pack Food that Won’t Spoil
Even with extra ice packs, you always run a risk when you bring perishable food into a hot outdoor environment. Rather than expose yourself to spoiled food, pack a picnic that doesn’t need to be kept cold. That way, you won’t have to worry if your day doesn’t go according to plan and you don’t end up eating right away.
Keep it simple with non-perishable items, like the classic peanut butter sandwich, pretzels and fruits.
Come Prepared and Be Cautious
If you can’t stand the idea of a picnic without some of your favorite perishable foods, just make sure you’re prepared. Do things like:
- Pack a cooler instead of your traditional picnic basket
- Use ice packs and pack food in airtight containers
- Use your senses to smell, look or tentatively taste for spoiled food
- Don’t eat anything that you think might pose a risk
The Food and Drug Administration also recommends these tips to keep you and your family safe.
- Keep cold food cold. Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer. The key is to never let your picnic food remain in the “Danger Zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for more than two hours, or one hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures.
- Keep coolers closed: Once at the picnic site, limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as you can. This helps to keep the contents cold longer.
- Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler — including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
But even with all of these precautions, don’t be afraid to toss food that might be suspect.
Check Expiration Dates
If your picnic basket still has the same jars or condiments from last summer, make sure you check their expiration dates. The majority of condiments have a long shelf life, but they do still expire. Check the labels and play it safe.
Watch for Cross-Contamination
If you’re packing for a cookout, you’ll likely be filling your basket with raw meat, like hot dogs or hamburgers. To ensure the rest of your picnic doesn’t suffer from cross-contamination, pack your raw foods in separate containers. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
Practice Sun Safety
Since picnics generally take place during warmer weather months, make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. To reduce waste and lighten the load, have everyone carry their own reusable insulated water bottles. If refills are needed, bring a jug filled with ice water.
A picnic or summer party can be a great way to spend some time outdoors with the people you love. Just make sure you pack properly and be aware of hidden hazards.