Picnic Food Safety

Knowing basic guidelines about picnic food safety will allow to enjoy your summer picnics with confidence!

It's no fun worrying about whether the food you serve is safe - and it's even less fun to contract a foodborne illness! Fortunately, following some common sense rules about picnic food safety will eliminate that worry.

Food temperature

This one is easy: keep hot foods hot (above 140F/60C), and cold foods cold (below 40F/4C). It takes just a couple of hours for food in the danger zone (between 40F-140F/4C-60C) to become dangerous.

It's not easy to keep foods that hot once you leave your kitchen! That's why my favorite summer picnic foods are all cold foods.

The only time I take hot foods is when we are going straight to our picnic place, and planning to eat as soon as we get there. I take the hot food straight from the stove or oven, pack it in stainless steel containers, and wrap the containers in thick towels. This keeps the food sufficiently hot until we are ready to eat.

It's handy to own a food thermometer. You'll be able to tell without a doubt whether your food is at a safe temperature - or not.

If the picnic is far from home, or if we're going to play all afternoon and eat several hours after leaving home, I take only cold foods, packed with ice in a cooler.

I make my own cooler ice packs. Here's how:

  • fill an empty plastic bottle with water (square 2 pint/1 litre containers are the ideal size and shape)
  • leave room at the top for the water to expand as it freezes
  • put on the lid
  • freeze
  • store the ice pack in your freezer until you need it
Using these ice packs is much more convenient (and cheaper!) than buying bags or blocks of ice. Your cooler stays neat and dry even when the ice has melted. Not only is water in the bottom of the cooler messy - it can also spread any contamination from one food to another.

Take your cold foods straight from the refrigerator to the cooler. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the vehicle. If you have air conditioning, put the cooler up front - not in the hot trunk. At the picnic place, put the cooler in the shade, and keep it closed as much as possible to keep the cold air inside.


Proper handwashing is an important part of picnic food safety - just as important as it is at home. Wash your hands before preparing or serving food, and before eating.

Take along your own soap. (Public washrooms rarely have soap, in my experience.) A soap pump or a sheaf of "soap leaves" is easier and tidier to use in a public washroom than a bar of soap.

If you're picnicking where there is no running water, take along a jug of water just for handwashing. Wet your hands slightly; lather up; rinse.

Drinking water

Avoid the temptation to drink from that sparkling mountain stream. There's no way to tell just by looking at it whether it is safe to drink. Drink water only from a safe source. If you're not sure whether there will be safe water at your picnic place, bring along a large jug filled with water from home.

By following these simple guidelines about picnic food safety, you'll ensure that your good picnic food is as safe to eat as it is delicious!

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