Don't Let Food-Borne Bacteria Bug Your Picnic

Armen Hareyan's picture

Prevent most food-borne illnesses

Ants aren't the only bugs that can invade your summer outing. E coli and salmonella can also ruin the fun.

To protect your family, Dr. Janice Stuff, a registered dietitian with the USDA's Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston offers these tips:

  • Prevent most food-borne illnesses by following three simple rules: Keep food covered, keep it clean, and keep it cold.

  • Wash hands and all preparation surfaces with warm soapy water before preparing, packing and serving foods. Take along disposable hand wipes in case there is no running water at the picnic site.

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water to remove bacteria. Wash hands, cutting boards and utensils thoroughly before and after preparing each picnic food.

  • Refrigerate all prepared foods as soon as possible and store in containers with tight-fitting lids.


  • Transport raw meat, fish and poultry, as well as foods containing eggs, milk, cooked meats, or mayonnaise, in insulated ice chests. Cover with blue ice or pack with ice on all sides. Pack coolers just before leaving home. Place them inside the car instead of the trunk. At the picnic site keep in a shady spot and open only when necessary.

  • Before you spread the tablecloth and set out the food, inspect the area. Make sure the spot is not a haven for birds, squirrels, flies or other unwanted guests that might contaminate foods. As an extra precaution, cover foods with plastic wrap before and after they are served.

  • Use a thermometer, not your eye, to judge when grilled meats are done. Cook poultry pieces, pork and ground meat to 160 degrees, steaks to 145 degrees.

  • Keep foods wrapped until just before serving and limit the time picnic foods are left exposed to summer heat.

  • Bring raw meat marinades to a boil if to be served with the cooked foods.

Food borne illnesses can range from mild to severe. They can be especially dangerous for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems who may suffer from complications caused by vomiting and diarrhea.

Symptoms of food poisoning can appear anywhere from two to 36 hours after consuming a contaminated food or beverage and last several days. If someone becomes ill, offer plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If you suspect food poisoning, contact your physician as soon as possible.