Don’t Panic Over Your Picnic: Three Food Safety Tips for a Healthy Summer Outing

Whether you pack up a picnic, head out for a hike or cruise to a campsite this summer, safely bring all your favourite foods along by following these three simple guidelines.

Did you know?

In hot weather, perishable foods can spoil and become unsafe to eat in only 2 hours.

The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent food spoilage. Follow the three guidelines below to ensure your food is safe to eat when heading out on your next summer outing!

1) Keep it Cool

Before you go:

  • Foods that are normally in the fridge (e.g. cooked meat, yogurt, potato or pasta salad made with mayo) must be kept cold in a cooler.
  • Refrigerate or freeze food the day before so it’s nice and cold when you leave.
  • Fill a cooler with freezer ice packs, frozen juice boxes, or frozen water bottles to store food on the go. Unsure if it’s cold enough? Use a thermometer to check that the inside of the cooler is at or below 4° C (40° F).
  • Use two coolers if you can—one for drinks and one for food.
  • If you use loose ice cubes in the cooler, make sure all food is in sealed containers to prevent melted ice from cross-contaminating foods.

In transit:

  • Place the cooler in the coldest part of your vehicle and use air conditioning, if necessary, to keep food cool.

When you arrive:

  • Keep the cooler out of the sun and try to open it as infrequently as possible to keep the warm air out and cold air in.
  • Cover the cooler with a blanket to help keep it cool. For more tips on what to pack, click here.

2) Keep it Clean

  • Clean fruit and vegetables thoroughly at home before you leave.
  • Bring two sets of utensils and cutting boards—one for raw food and the other for cooked/ready-to-eat items.
  • Pack an extra bag to separate dirty items from clean ones.
  • Be sure to use only safe drinking water for washing food, dishes or brushing teeth. Use tap water from a clean source or bring bottled water. Water from a lake, stream or river may look clean but it could still be unsafe to drink.
  • If necessary, you can purify water by bringing it to a rolling boil for one minute. Strain water out through a coffee filter. If you can’t boil it, you can treat it with water purification tablets or water filters.
  • Give utensils, plates, bottles and trays a good scrub with soap and water at home after each outing. The same goes for the cooler!
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water, and especially before handling food or eating.

Be sure to wash your hands after you:

Touch raw meat, poultry or fish
Touch raw fruit and vegetables
Use the washroom
Change a diaper
Touch an animal
Touch any dirty surface

3) Cook it well

  • It may be easier to cook meat in advance and chill it at home before you go. You can eat it cold or reheat when you get there. If you do bring raw food to cook, check if it’s cooked enough to be safe to eat:
Food Temperature
Beef steaks/roasts 63°C (145°F) medium-rare

71°C (160°F) medium

77°C (170°F) well done

Pork chops, ribs; ground beef, ground pork, beef/pork sausages 71°C (160°F)
Stuffing, casseroles, hot dogs, leftovers, egg dishes 74°C (165°F)
Ground chicken/turkey, chicken/turkey sausages; chicken/turkey breasts, legs, thighs, wings 74°C (165°F)
Game meats 74°C (165°F)
Fish 70°C (158°F)
  • A digital food thermometer is the best way to know if your food is cooked through and to prevent overcooking. Be sure to check it in the thickest part of the meat and wash the thermometer with soap and water between uses to prevent cross-contamination. 
  • If there are leftovers, be sure to cool in shallow containers and don’t leave at room temperature for more than an hour. 
  • For a more complete list of foods and cooking temperatures, click here.

Remember: when it doubt, throw it out!

If you want to learn more about food safety, check out: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/safety-salubrite/index-eng.php.

Enjoy your outing!

Originaly written by Nicole Spencer, MEd, RD in 2015

Updated by Carmen Gorlick, RD in June 2019

Adapted from:



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