Checklist for the Perfect Summer Picnic

Posted on June 23, 2015 by


by Kristina Beaugh, MPH, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

A couple sitting outside enjoying a picnic.On a beautiful summer day, it can be fun to have a picnic outside at the park, on the beach, or even in your own backyard. You do what you can to keep away ants and other bugs, but what about other unwanted guests like Salmonella or Listeria? Use this checklist to make sure your perfect picnic is food safe.

In the Kitchen…

  • Wash hands, work area, and all utensils before, during, and after preparing food.
  • Marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Do NOT thaw frozen items at room temperature.

Planning the Menu…

  • Plan to take only the amounts of food you’ll use.
  • Most foods are safe for short periods when stored with ice or frozen gel packs in a proper cooler.
  • Creamy or custard foods and salads using store-bought mayonnaise are safe, if kept cold in a cooler.
  • No partial or precooking ahead of time, cook completely at the picnic site.
  • No cooler? Not a problem. Plan your menu using the following items:
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Hard cheese
    • Canned/dried meats or fish
    • Dry cereal
    • Bread
    • Peanut Butter
    • Crackers

Packing it Up…

  • Always use an insulated cooler with a cold source, such as ice, frozen gel packs, or frozen foods.
  • Pack cold food first, right from the refrigerator.
  • Plan to keep hot foods hot with a thermos or insulated dish.
  • Don’t forget to pack paper towels and a food thermometer.

Hitting the Road…

  • When using a cooler keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. .
  • Replenish ice or frozen gel packs if they start to melt.

Heat and Eat…

  • Keep food cold until ready to cook.
  • Cook meat and poultry thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures:
    • Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time
    • Ground meats: 160 °F
    • Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °F
  • Use a fresh, clean plate for serving cooked food.
  • Don’t let raw meat juices touch other food.

Come and Get It…

  • Place leftovers promptly in the cooler. Discard any persishable food left out for more than 2 hours.
  • In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should not sit out for more than one hour.
  • Serve small portions and keep the rest in the cooler.


  • If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, and the food did not sit out at the picnic, the food is still safe to store in the refrigerator.

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Posted in: Family safety