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Taking Al Fresco to Go

Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team

Be savvy when you pack up your delectable dishes and hit the road. Whether you’re picnicking under the stars at your favorite music venue or spending a day at the beach, these tips will keep you safe.

Why Invite Food Safety To the Party?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates 1 in 6 Americans each year either become ill, are hospitalized or die due to a foodborne illness.1 This means in a group of six enjoying a picnic together, one person will be directly impacted by the handling of their food at some point over the year.

Pair taking food away from the home during the warm days of summer and you have the perfect combination to set a foodborne illness incident in motion. The best way to prevent from suffering from a foodborne illness is to learn the whys and hows when dining al fresco this season.

Just the Basics: Clean

The number one way to prevent a foodborne illness is proper handwashing. Yup, it’s that simple. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and running water before ever touching your food, during any food prep when moving from one food to the next, before you eat and once you’re finished with your meal.

What if you don’t have access to a bathroom? That’s when bottled water or handwipes and hand sanitizer swoop in for the win. Wash or wipe your hands clean and follow up with hand sanitizer for each of the moments listed above.

On the Road Without Microbes: Separate 

Music blaring and windows down, singing your favorite tunes, summer road trips create the ripe environment for memory making. Add in delicious treats to enjoy along the way so there’s no need to stop at fast food drive-thrus and you’re on your way to a successful adventure in no time.

When packing goodies to travel with you, be sure to keep room temperature foods separate from those that need to stay cold. For example, when packing snack items like mozzarella string cheese, fresh berries, cashews and whole grain crackers, keep the cheese and berries in an insulated food container cooled with frozen ice packs. 

If you’re meeting up with friends to cook together at your destination, always pack raw meats like hamburgers and hot dogs away from other foods in an insulated container stocked with ice packs. For salads and pairings like potato salad, coleslaw, lettuce, sliced tomatoes and condiments, store in a separate insulated container, on ice, away from raw meats.

When cooking, always keep surfaces, utensils and tools, like cutting boards, used for raw meat away from those used for other refrigerated or uncooked items. For example, uncooked hamburger patties should have their own plate that is not reused for cooked hamburgers, hamburger rolls or toppings like sliced vegetables.

Packing a Safe Picnic: Cook

Nothing says summer picnicking quite like setting up a campfire or small grill for cooking up barbecue chicken, shrimp skewers, veggie kabobs and stone fruit like peaches and nectarines. When the occasion calls for cooking, be sure to come prepared with the unsung hero for keeping your food safe: an instant-read food thermometer.

Be sure to cook raw meats according to the recommended internal-cooking temperature chart below from our friends at the Partnership for Food Safety Education.2  When preparing meats, be sure to keep those with higher internal-cooking temperatures away from those with lower temperatures. Additionally, when cooking vegetables and fruit, do so separately to minimize the risk of cross-contact with uncooked meat.

Beef, pork, veal and lamb
(roast, steaks and chops)
With a three-minute “rest time” after removal from the heat source
Beef, pork, veal and lamb
(whole, parts or ground)
Eggs and egg dishes 160°F
Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm; scrambled eggs should not be runny
Leftovers 165°F
Finfish 145°F
Shrimp, Lobster, Crabs Flesh pearly and opaque
Scallops Milky white, opaque and firm
Clams, Oysters and Mussels Shells open during cooking

Beach Food Smarts: Chill

A fun day at the beach can zap your energy fast if you go too long without eating or hydrating. Bring nourishing snacks and beverages with you to keep mental pep and energy going. Items like yogurt and cut up fruit, crudités and whole grain crackers and beverages such as cold water, seltzer and unsweetened teas and herbal teas are fantastic options for a day of sun bathing and splashing in the waves.

Keep refrigerated foods like yogurt, cut up fruit and vegetables and drinks cold for your entire beach day with an insulated bag or cooler large enough to include ice blocks and ice. If that means bringing one for food and another for drinks, do! 

In hot weather, above 90 degrees, you only have an hour before the risk of a foodborne illness begins to climb for perishable foods such as vegetables, cut fruit, milk products and cooked meats left out of refrigeration. Bacteria loves to multiply rapidly within the Food Safety Danger Zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whenever traveling with cold foods, keep them below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the growth of bacteria. Store cold foods in an insulated container filled with ice packs and ice when summer days find you out-and-about. Whether you’re at the lake, on the beach or at a backyard barbecue, keep food containers closed when you’re not grabbing a bite to eat or drink. Place food containers out of direct sunlight to help maintain their temperature as well.

When In Doubt

Not sure if you left food out too long? Unsure if you should scrap leftovers once your outdoor adventure comes to an end? Practice the second top way to prevent a foodborne illness: When in doubt, throw it out.

No one wants to lose money, especially on food— keeping leftovers longer than their lifespan, though, could cost you more than the amount you spent at the grocery store. Having a foodborne illness will impact your ability to work and may land you with excessive healthcare costs in addition to short-term and long-term impacts on your health.

In summary, when you’re dining al fresco this summer season:

✓ Wash your hands, frequently.
✓ When in doubt, throw it out.
✓ Keep foods separated.
✓ Cook foods properly.
✓ Keep cold foods chilled.

1  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast facts about food poisoning. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/food-poisoning.html. Accessed 5/22/2023.
2  Partnership for Food Safety. Safe recipe style guide. https://www.saferecipeguide.org/cooking-temps/. Accessed 5/23/2023.

Published 6/5/2023