Happy family enjoying a picnic at the park.

Outdoor and picnic food safety

Food safety and illness prevention are important when cooking and dining outdoors. We have food prep, storage and cooking tips.

Whether you’re barbequing in the backyard, cooking over the campfire or enjoying a picnic in the park, eating al fresco can be a fun way to enjoy your meal. When cooking or handling food outdoors, it’s important to remember to keep food safety in mind. Each year, over 100,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized due to foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Help protect everyone at your next picnic with these food safety tips on preparation, cooking and storage.

Outdoor food preparation

Plan ahead to help keep your food safe throughout the day. Remember to:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables ahead of time. There may not be running water at the picnic site.
  • Store meat in separate airtight containers to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Place drinks and perishable foods in separate coolers. When guests grab drinks, they won't expose the perishable items.
  • Marinate your food in the refrigerator before heading outdoors and transport it in a chilled and sealed container.
  • Use ice packs to help keep perishable items at a safe temperature in the cooler.
  • Pack a meat thermometer so you can be sure meat is cooked to safe cooking temperatures.

Storing and serving food outdoors safely

As you enjoy your time outside, don't forget to:

  • Keep coolers out of direct sunlight and avoid opening them excessively.
  • Keep perishable items in the cooler until it’s time to eat and see that these items stay cool. The Food and Drug Administration recommends storing cold food at 40⁰ F or below.
  • To serve, fill large bowls with ice and set foods that need to stay cool on top. Don't forget to replace the ice as it melts.
  • Discard any food that's been sitting out for more than two hours; if it's 90⁰ or more outside, discard after one hour.

Cooking outdoors

The same rules you follow at home apply to outdoor cooking and grilling safely. Remember to:

  • Cook meat to the proper temperature to help destroy potentially harmful bacteria.
  • If you plan to use a marinade as a sauce, set aside a separate portion that hasn't come into contact with raw food.
  • Separate different types of raw meat from each other.
  • Don't place cooked meat on a plate that once held raw meat. This goes for utensils, too. Switch out your tongs to serve cooked meat.
  • Place cooked meats in a pan by the side of the grill. The heat can help maintain a safe internal temperature.
  • Have an area available to wash hands, and clean surfaces regularly and thoroughly.

Cooking outdoors doesn’t have to feel like an extreme sport. Practicing the proper safety precautions when handling, storing and serving food outdoors can help reduce the risk of contamination while enjoying your meal. And if you’re planning your next picnic for a hot sunny day, you may want to check out our summer heat safety tips.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

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