Preventing Food Poisoning at Your Next Summer Picnic

Preventing Food Poisoning at Your Next Summer Picnic

Preventing Food Poisoning at Your Next Summer Picnic

Nothing can ruin memories of a summer picnic for family and friends like sending them home with food poisoning. According to the Department of Agriculture, foodborne illnesses are higher in the summer than any other time of the year. This is because bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures.

Foods not handled properly or cooked thoroughly along with lack of cleanliness, and improper storage, can easily turn foods into a petri dish for bacteria. It’s easy to remember what conditions create spoiled food with the acronym FAT-TOM. FAT-TOM is used in the restaurant industry to teach food safety. Here’s how it breaks down.

“F” stands for food, of course.

“A” is for acidity. Bacteria don’t like to grow in acidic environments. Foods with high pH   levels, such as potatoes, pasta, and meat are more susceptible to bacteria growth.

“T” stands for temperature. The FDA says food goes bad when storage temperatures are between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

“T” is for time. The second “T” indicates that bacteria double their population every 20 minutes. One bacterium in food will multiply to 60 billion in twelve hours with the right conditions.

“O” stands for oxygen. Some bacteria need oxygen to grow and others liked those that develop into botulism don’t.

“M” stands for moisture. Bacteria grow on moist foods and not on dry foods, such as dry pasta or dehydrated foods.

Remembering FAT-TOM is useful for knowing what makes bacteria grow, but there are some other pragmatic steps that can be taken to ensure no one gets sick on your potato salad.


Poor sanitation is a major culprit contributing to food contamination. So, it’s important to be aware of keeping your hands and surfaces clean at all time, especially at the outdoor cooking venue where it’s easier to forget. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when preparing foods for picnics.

  • Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing dishes, especially when prepping meat or poultry.

  • Never use the same cutting board used for poultry or meat for cutting other foods without first washing it in hot, soapy water.

  • Don’t use the same plate to put cooked meat on that held raw meat.

  • When planning your outdoor activity take into consideration if there’s going to be water available. If not, you may need to bring water or prep foods in your kitchen.

  • It’s easy to forget to wash hands when cooking and dining outdoors. Use antibacterial hand cleaner if you don’t have access to water outdoors.

  • Wash all fruit and vegetables before going to the picnic. Even melons should be washed because the outside of the melons can have bacteria on them that can get transferred to the knife and fruit when cutting through them.

Keep Cold Foods Cold

Since bacteria can multiply very quickly in hot weather it’s important that food does not sit out long and that it is stored properly before bringing to the picnic.

The recommendation is that food sitting out longer than an hour in temperatures over 90 degrees needs to be discarded. However, instead of taking the risk of food going bad, return food dishes to the cooler soon after everyone has eaten. Here are some other suggestions for keeping cold foods cold.

  • Coolers need to be kept out of the sun.

  • Keep food in one cooler and beverages in another.

  • Filled coolers stay cold longer. Fill empty spaces with ice.

  • Don’t put coolers in the trunk if possible. Temperatures are usually hotter in the trunk.

  • If you store your cooler in the garage, bring it into the house several hours before leaving for the outdoor activity. Also, put ice packs in it before putting food in it to cool it down.

  • Chill cold foods in the refrigerator a couple hours before transporting them to a barbeque or picnic.

  • When serving cold foods in a bowl, put a larger bowl with ice under it.

  • Serve cold foods in two smaller containers. While one is on the table, the other is kept chilled, bring out the second one after the first one is eaten.

Other Suggestion to Keep Foods Safe

  • Do not partially cook poultry and meat before transporting to the picnic. This can cause bacteria to grow.

  • Securely wrap raw meats and poultry so raw juices don’t leak in the cooler.

  • Transport raw meats, fish, and poultry in their own cooler.

  • Take a thermometer to the site where foods will be cooked to make sure meats, fish, and poultry are thoroughly cooked. This is because barbequed meats and poultry cook faster on the outside.

  • Keep food covered from flies and other insects that carry germs on them.

  • Don’t store hot foods and cold foods together.

Being mindful of cleanliness, proper storage, and cooking foods to the right temperature will ensure that you send your guests home with nothing more than fond memories.


Earley, Brigitt. 4 Summer Food Safety Tips. Retrieved from

Foodborne Illness Peaks in Summer – What can you do to prevent it? Retrieved from

Jarvie, Michelle. It must have been the potato salad…(June 8, 2015). Retrieved from

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