How to Keep Summer Foods Safe Outdoors

Expert tips on how to keep foods safe at summer picnics, farmers’ markets, and barbecues.



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If it's summer, chances are you—and your food—will be spending a lot of time outside. Here's how to keep your food from getting contaminated and you from getting sick.

At your summer picnic
Since July is National Picnic Month, we want all of our outdoor eating this summer to be fun—and safe, says Justin Wangler, executive chef at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center near Santa Rosa, California, who does his share of summer picnics. But there are plenty of food-safety pitfalls that can ruin the fun—so take these precautions.


  • Transport picnic foods in the passenger seat; your trunk can reach temperatures of 150 degrees F.

  • “If youre going to grill, always make sure to keep all of your raw meats separate from your cooked foods,” Wangler says. Pack them on the bottom of your coolers so the juice doesnt drip onto your produce.

  • Keep foods in coolers or on ice whenever possible, and keep it away from the direct sun and insects, says Steve Loehndorf, a food-safety expert at Resers Fine Foods, one of the largest deli-salad manufacturers in the United States. And use clean dishes and utensils to serve the foods (not the ones used for food prep), he says.

  • Pack plenty of moist towelettes or hand sanitizers, in case youre not near hand-washing facilities. Clean hands frequently during food prep and before serving. That means you shouldnt touch raw chicken and then serve the salad, for example.



At the farmers market
Farmers markets have traditionally had relaxed methods of food handling because the produce was uncut and would be cleaned at home, Chandler says. Now that theyve become social events with tastings, you need to pay more attention to food safety. Her tips:


  • Sample foods only from booths where there is evidence of clean hands at work. Look for gloves, hand-sanitizing gels, or even a bowl of clean water.

  • If foods are being cut on site, separate knives should be used for meat and other foods, and they should be cleaned between uses.

  • Dont eat samples that are clustered on a plate, allowing passersby to pick up a piece. This is a breeding ground for cross-contamination, thanks to dirty hands. Chandler recommends only eating samples that are pre-toothpicked.

  • Skip a sample if flies are buzzing around; they can carry Campylobacter jejuni, the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States.

  • Wash before eating. Those grapes you eat on the way home may not be clean.



At your next barbecue
A common mistake is soaking raw meat, shellfish, fish, or poultry in marinade before grilling and then returning the cooked food to the same dish or using the soaking marinade for basting. Dispose of all soaking marinades after using.

Finally, keep an eye on how long food is sitting out on your BBQ buffet. It doesnt take long for food to spoil, says Ellie Krieger, RD, host of the Food Networks Healthy Appetite:

“When I host an event, I stagger the times that I put out different platters. And ever since I learned how bacteria grow, Ive followed the two-hour rule of packing and refrigerating foods that havent been eaten at room temperature within that time frame. If its a hot summers day and youre outside, pack up or toss food after its been out for one hour.”
Lambeth Hochwald and Michael Gollust
Last Updated: May 19, 2009

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