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Keep food safe for summer picnics

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


Keeping food safe to eat is always a top priority but summer is a good time to take inventory of your food safety habits. Summer picnics and other outdoor events where food is served can be fertile breeding ground for foodborne illness.

When it comes to food safety, temperature is critically important. Illness-causing bacteria grow best at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The middle of that danger zone is 90 degrees and that is a temperature at which bacteria grow quickly. Because special events such as picnics and family gatherings are often outdoors in that 90 degree temperature, it is particularly important to pay special attention to food safety.

Bacteria that cause foodborne illness thrive well in protein-containing foods. To keep meat safe to eat you must handle it with care. That special care starts at the grocery store. Try to choose your meat products at the end of your shopping trip so they spend as little time as possible away from the refrigerator. Once you get them home, refrigerate or freeze promptly. Always thaw meat in the refrigerator and not on the counter top. If meat is thawed at room temperature, the outside can thaw and reach that danger zone long before the inside thaws. If you are going to marinate your meat, do so in the refrigerator or ice chest and then promptly discard the marinade. Adding used marinade to cooked meats can contaminate them. Be sure to cook meat thoroughly and then store at 40 degrees or less.

Food safety experts usually recommend that food not be left out in the danger zone longer than two hours. This advice is for when meals are served indoors at temperatures around 70 degrees. When the temperature is 90 degrees, the food needs to be out for as little time as possible. Keep ice chests handy for quick cool storage.

An important factor in preventing foodborne illness is hand washing. Hands can spread bacteria from one food source to the other. Hands should be washed often. Be sure and take a supply of antiseptic towelettes in case there is no water supply.

Picnics, ballgames and family gatherings don’t have happy endings if foodborne illness is the result. Just remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold for a happy ending for your special gathering.


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Last update: Monday, June 12, 2017