How to Avoid Food Poisoning at a Picnic
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

How to Avoid Food Poisoning at a Picnic

A beloved summertime tradition, picnics are a great way to savor a delicious meal while appreciating the beauty of the great outdoors. However, when it comes to outdoor dining, food safety should be a top priority.

Rates of food poisoning increase in summer months because bacteria grows faster in warmer, more humid weather. In fact, an estimated 48 million people suffer from food poisoning every summer. While most people recover without any lasting health impact, approximately 128,000 patients are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

The good news is that, with a few simple precautions, you can keep yourself and your guests safe while making the occasion memorable for all the right reasons.

Here’s where to start:

Packing and Transporting Food

  • Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs to keep perishable items, such as meats, dairy, and prepared dishes, at a safe temperature (below 40°F) during transport and at the picnic site.
  • Pack raw meats separately from other foods to prevent cross-contamination and reduce how often the cooler gets opened, which can speed ice melt.
  • Bring plenty of clean utensils, plates, and serving dishes to avoid using the same items for raw and cooked foods.

Proper Food Handling

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling any food. If running water is not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw and cooked foods.
  • If handling raw meat, wear gloves. If you do not have gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw meat or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid letting food sit out for more than two hours (or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F). Discard any items that have been left at an unsafe temperature for too long.
  • Keep hot foods hot (above 140°F) and cold foods cold (below 40°F) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Grilling and Cooking

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure that any meats, poultry, or seafood are cooked to the recommended safe internal temperature.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Discard any marinades or sauces that have been in contact with raw meat.
  • Avoid partially cooking food and then finishing it later, as this can create a breeding ground for bacteria.

Storing Leftovers

  • Perishable food left out for more than an hour should be thrown away.
  • Other leftovers should be stored in the cooler or a sealed container and consumed within three to four days.
  • Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165°F before serving.

Even with the best of efforts, people sometimes succumb to food poisoning. Symptoms may start anywhere from within hours to 10 days of eating contaminated food. Common symptoms include an upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or fever.  In severe cases, people may experience blurred vision, confusion, tingling, muscle aches or weakness.

Most cases of food poisoning are mild and clear up in a few days. During that time, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or beverages with electrolytes (e.g. Gatorade or Pedialyte). Avoid solid foods and dairy products until the vomiting and diarrhea have passed.

If you experience any of the following, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Blood in your vomit or stool
  • Blurred vision 
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days
  • Severe abdominal pain or stomach cramping
  • Fever over 101.5 F
  • Inability to keep liquids down
  • Tingling in your arms
  • Weakness in your muscles


Russell Carrier is the nutrition and dining kitchen manager at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Bentley Munsell BSN, RN, CEN Clinical Nurse Manager of ExpressCare at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.


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