Safe Picnicking & Grilling

Picnics and outdoor grilling can be lots of fun as long as you plan for the situation. You can't be too careful when handling and packaging food for cooking and eating outdoors. Summer heat increases the chance of bacterial growth in foods, and bacteria are more likely to grow in foods that are high in protein and moisture — meats, poultry, seafood, dairy products and egg dishes. Here are some helpful reminders on how to keep your food safe and tasty.

The three most important things to remember about serving foods outdoors are:

Keep HOT foods HOT!

Hold hot cooked foods between 140°F and 165°F until serving time. Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly below 140°F.When food is cooked to temperatures of 165°F to 212°F, most food-poisoning bacteria is killed. The higher the heat, the less time it takes to kill bacteria.

Keep COLD foods COLD!

Cold food should be held at 40°F or colder. Harmful bacteria can multiply quickly above 40°F. Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Freezing at 0°F prevents additional bacteria growth.

Follow the 2-Hour Rule

The absolute maximum time for leaving prepared foods at room temperature is 2 hours-including time for preparation, serving and eating. Discard any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. If you are eating outdoors at a picnic or cookout where temperatures are over 90°F, discard foods after 1 hour.

Here are a few more tips to help keep your food safe:

  • A well insulated cooler packed with ice or reusable cold paks is a fine alternative to a refrigerator.

  • Make sure the foods you pack in the cooler, whether purchased or made at home, have been kept below 40°F.

  • Open the cooler as infrequently as possible to retain cold air.

  • Although it may look nice to set all of the food out on the picnic table, it is safer to leave cold foods in the cooler until right before eating.

  • Wash your hand thoroughly before and after handling food. Clean your cutting surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after each use.

  • Thaw and marinate meats, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator - not at room temperature.

  • Cook meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly. Don't start to cook, then stop, intending to finish later, as bacteria grow faster in partially cooked food.

  • Eat hot, grilled foods immediately and serve on clean plates.

  • Any food that has been left out on a picnic table or in a cooler with melting ice for more than 2 hours must be discarded.

Safe Grilling Tips

  • Don't cross-contaminate. When cutting raw meats, be sure to keep their juices away from other food.

  • After cutting raw meats always wash hands, cutting boards, knives, and counter tops with hot, soapy water.

  • Sanitize cutting boards regularly and consider designating a special cutting board.

  • Thaw and marinate meats, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator — not at room temperature.

  • Cook meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly. Don't start to cook and then stop, intending to finish later, as bacteria grow faster in partially cooked food.

  • When taking food off the grill, always use a clean plate. Never put cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat.

  • Eat hot grilled foods immediately and serve on clean plates.

  • Bacteria grows rapidly at room temperature, so never leave food out for over 2 hours. If outdoor temperature is above 90°F, do not leave food out longer than 1 hour.

Cooking Temperatures for Natural Meat

We highly recommend that you cook all meat thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria. This does not mean that you have to cook the meat until it is dry and tough.

The best way to ensure juicy, flavorful, perfectly cooked meat is to use an instant read thermometer and follow these simple temperature guidelines:

  • Ground beef, lamb and pork: 160°F

  • Ground poultry: 165°F

  • Beef roasts and steaks: (at least) 145°F; (for medium) 160°F

  • Pork chops, roasts and tenderloin: 160°F

  • Poultry: 165°F

How to use an instant read thermometer

Insert the thermometer into the middle of the thickest part of the meat being careful not to touch bone. Wait a couple of minutes before reading. For whole poultry, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.