OSU Extension offers food safety tips for your July Fourth picnic

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — As you gear up for your July Fourth celebration in the park, the temptation to partially cook meats at home and finish them on the grill during the picnic might cross your mind. However, this seemingly time-saving approach could expose you to foodborne illnesses.

Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian, explains that partial cooking doesn’t destroy bacteria that can cause illnesses. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). 

“The added heat during partial cooking can allow these bacteria to grow to unsafe levels,” she warns. “Instead, opt for fully cooking your meats to a safe internal temperature on the grill at the picnic. Beef and pork should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, while chicken should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”

With July being designated as National Picnic Month, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with some other food safety tips to ensure you, your family, and your friends can enjoy months of summer picnics and barbecues without the potential for foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and listeria.

For example, did you know that it is better to store your cooler in the air-conditioned car as you drive to your picnic rather than placing it in a hot trunk? Also, if you plan to buy takeout foods such as fried chicken for your picnic, eat the food within two hours of purchase to avoid developing foodborne illnesses.

If you plan to make potato, egg, or pasta salad, cool the potatoes, eggs, or pasta and other ingredients to refrigerator temperature (below 40 degrees) before assembling. This prevents the salad from going into the temperature “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees — at which bacteria multiply rapidly during preparation or storage.

The following are some additional food safety tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure a healthy and enjoyable picnic:

  • Cooler storage: When transporting your picnic cooler, keep it in the air-conditioned car rather than the hot trunk. This helps maintain safe temperatures for perishable foods.
  • Insulated cooler: Always use an insulated cooler with ice, frozen gel packs, or frozen foods to keep cold items cold.
  • Separate raw meats: Pack uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood separately from ready-to-eat foods. Consider using a separate cooler for uncooked meats.
  • Choose fresh produce: Select refrigerated or ice-surrounded, fresh-cut produce such as melon or mixed greens.
  • Serve safely: Use a fresh, clean plate for serving cooked food, and avoid letting raw meat juices touch other items.
  • Leftovers: Promptly store leftovers in the cooler and keep the cooler in the shade. Discard perishable food left out for more than two hours.

“Remember, in hot weather (especially above 90 degrees), perishable foods should not sit out for more than an hour,” Shumaker said. “Prioritize handwashing and cleanliness throughout food preparation. If soap and water will not be available, pack plenty of sanitizer and wipes for hands and surfaces.”

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Kate Shumaker
Ohio State University Extension