Monthly Health Message:

Stay Safe at Your Family Picnic

August 2013

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Staying safe throughout the summer months at picnics and will keep your family safe from food poisoning. Bacteria love the New Jersey's hot, humid weather and grow quickly at this time of the year. It is very important to keep perishable foods refrigerated or cool with ice at the correct temperature at picnics, barbecues, and while traveling. Take these small steps to keep your family and friends safe:

  • Temperature and Time - Keep picnic food safe by following the two hour or less rule. Make sure perishable food is only left outside the fridge or freezer for two hours or less. The time drops to one hour in temperatures above 90° F.
  • Hot and Cold Food Safety - Keep hot food hot and cold food cold on the way to, and throughout, outdoor gatherings. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
  • Food Thermometer -According to USDA research, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown in the middle before reaching a safe internal temperature. Using a food thermometer to test the internal temperature of food keeps you safe from harmful food bacteria, helps to avoid overcooking, and keeps food juicy and flavorful.
  • USDA Recommendations - USDA has revised its recommended cooking temperature for all whole cuts (steaks, roasts, and chops) of meat, including pork, beef, lamb, and veal to 145° F, and then allowing a 3 minute rest time before carving or consuming. During the 3 minutes after meat is removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens.
  • Bring Non-Perishable Foods - Limit the number of perishable foods on the menu. Bring baked potato or other chips, pretzels, or popcorn instead of potato salad or macaroni salad; dried fruit or fruit cups in their natural juices instead of a cut up fruit salad; and other non-perishable snacks such as trail mix or nuts.
  • Two coolers, One for Food and Another for Beverages- Bring two coolers to keep perishable foods cool using an insulated cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Keep it clean, Keep it Safe - During outdoor gatherings keep plates, eating and cooking utensils clean and check ahead to find out if there's a source of safe drinking water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
  • Dangers of Cross Contamination - Cross-contamination during preparing, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Remember to always wash your hands before and after handling food, and don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Include lots of clean plates and eating utensils for serving the safely cooked food.

Follow these tips for a safe summer. For more food safety information, check out the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station food safety website.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences