Food & The Great Outdoors: A Safety Checklist


It only takes a few common-sense steps to make sure that summer picnicking and other outdoor festivities don’t result in food-borne illnesses that can be very hazardous, especially to both younger and older people with more susceptible immune systems. Food-based bacteria multiply at a much more accelerated rate in hotter and more humid temperatures, so picnics and cookouts are potentially high-risk environments. Keeping the peace in the family and trying to get rid of guests who never want to leave are also challenging, but that is a different checklist!  


  • Washing your hands can actually be entertaining to yourself and others! Before cooking, wash hands in hot, soapy water for about 20 seconds or while quickly singing "Happy Birthday" two consecutive times.

  • When the temperature outside is above 90 degrees, never leave food out for one hour, hot or cold, unless you can maintain its temperature.

  • Marinate meats, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator (not on the counter as some recipes call for), and never return cooked food to the marinade. Discard the marinade immediately. If part of the marinade is needed, reserve it beforehand in a separate container.

  • Mayonnaise and dairy-based potato salads, slaws and other salads need to be kept on a bed of ice in a shallow container and preferably in the shade. Once the ice melts, drain the water and replenish the ice.

  • Hamburgers and turkey burgers need to be cooked all the way through — avoid rare or underdone patties. Even if the meat is browned, it can still be undercooked. One way to avoid this is to partially cook the burgers on the stovetop or in the oven or microwave, and then complete the cooking process on the grill. This saves a little time, still imparts the flavor and appearance of grilling and avoids undercooking. At times, even the self-proclaimed best grill master can undercook meat.

  • Avoid placing cooked meat, poultry or fish on a platter that has held raw food. All surfaces, including utensils, that come into contact with raw meat should be washed with hot, soapy water and disinfected. And if prepping raw foods on a cutting board or any other surface, make sure it is completely cleaned before using in other capacities.

  • Discard leftovers if they have been sitting out for more than a few hours. Enjoy any leftovers that have been refrigerated within the next day or two.

  • Rinse fruit and vegetables as harmful bacteria and pesticides can transfer from the skin and rinds and be ingested.