Safe Picnics & Cook-Outs


Corncobs and meat on grill

Memorial Day Weekend, which traditionally marks the beginning of summer, is almost here and many of you will probably celebrate with picnics and cook-outs. This time of year also marks the re-emergence of some questionable food safety behaviors.

If you could simply tuck a refrigerator under one arm and take it with you, there wouldn’t be a problem with keeping food safe. We each need to be aware of food safety risks and practices at all times, but especially so in warm weather.

At warm temperatures, it takes less time for cold foods to reach the temperature “Danger Zone.” Food is in the “Danger Zone” when it is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this temperature range food poisoning bacteria multiply very quickly.

Follow these guidelines to keep you and your food safe:

If there’s no running water available, use disposable, wet sanitizing-wipes to clean your hands and any surface where food will be set before working with food.

Keep bacteria on raw meat and poultry from spreading. Wash your hands again after working with raw meat or poultry and before handling other food. Don’t re-use utensils, plates or bowls you used with the raw product – either for the cooked meat or another food. Place cooked meat or poultry on a clean plate, using clean utensils for serving.

Keep all perishable foods in a cooler. The cooler should be well-insulated and packed with ice or a freeze-pack insert. Cold drinks in cans help keep other foods cool too. When possible, place the cooler in the shade and keep the lid closed. Consider keeping raw meats in a separate cooler, away from other ready to eat foods.

Put the cooler in the passenger area of the car for the trip to and from your picnic location. It’s much cooler than the trunk!

Cook everything thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, fish and poultry are cooked to at least the minimum safe internal temperature. Visit to find the right temperature for your grill selections.

Leftovers? Put perishable foods back in the cooler as soon as you finish eating. Don’t leave them out while you go for a swim or hike. If you were gone no more than 4-5 hours and your perishables were on ice except when cooked and served, you should be able to save the leftovers.

Author: Kate Shumaker , Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

Reviewed by: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Selection and Management, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.


USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service. Safe Food To Go: A guide to packing lunches, picnicking and camping out.

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