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9 Tips to Reduce Food Poisoning Risk During a Picnic

9 Tips to Reduce Food Poisoning Risk During a Picnic

It’s that time of year when folks suddenly want to do everything outside—including eating. And what better way to do so than at a picnic? Nothing feels more summery than whipping out a blanket and piling it high with alfresco fixings like tasty sandwiches and refreshing drinks.

But that scene turns a little less blissful when you add bubbly burps and churning stomachs to the mix: Food poisoning really ruins a great outing. We assume that’s something that pretty much all of the estimated 48 million people who come down with it each year can agree on.

Unfortunately, that prime picnic atmosphere is ripe for food poisoning, Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, a food safety and nutrition professor and extension specialist at North Dakota State University, tells SELF. “In addition to warmer temperatures, summer tends to be more humid, and bacteria grow well when adequate moisture is present,” she says. In fact, the bugs can nearly double every 20 minutes in scorching conditions, she says. 

When pathogens like salmonella or E. coli enter your body—say, after you eat dishes spoiled from the heat or prepared by an infected person who didn’t wash their hands—it can cause those classic and supremely hellish food poisoning symptoms, like relentless diarrhea and vomiting, stomach pain, nausea, or even fever.

Thankfully, there are plenty of food safety tips that can help you host a get-together that won’t leave your guests puking. Here’s everything you need to know to protect your picnic, from before you leave the house to after you pack it all up.

What to do before your picnic

1. Pick foolproof recipes fit for the outdoors.

Choose dishes that don’t spoil easily and won’t be a pain to prepare, Thomas J. Delle Donne, MS, an assistant dean of culinary relations and special projects at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, tells SELF. Hot dishes like rice pilaf or noodles must be prepped immediately before heading out, and you’d have to make sure they stay at 140°F or above the entire time, Donne says. As opposed to simply enjoying your time, you’ll be on thermometer duty all day instead.

On the other hand, cold entrees are generally more picnic-friendly: You can prepare and refrigerate them the night before and then just stick them in a cooler to keep them safe, Donne says. Mayo-based staples, like potato or chicken salad, are fair game as long as you keep them on ice the entire time, he says. Other great options include your favorite gazpacho soup, pasta salad with a crisp vinaigrette, a refreshing fruit medley, or even some sandwich fixings, he says. 

For picnic food that requires even less thought on the day of, consider breaking out the shelf-stable snacks, appetizers, or desserts, Frank Costantino, dean of the Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College, tells SELF. Bagged pretzels, chips, and mixed nuts are solid choices because you don’t need to worry about keeping them cold or hot, he says. If you’re looking for something sweeter, you can swap sliced fresh fruit—which would need to stay chilled—with dried options, he says. 

2. Wash your fruits and veggies—even the ones with inedible rinds. 

If you’re making a fruit salad, chances are you’ll remember to rinse off the blueberries before you toss them in. But what about the watermelon before you cube it? We don’t totally blame you if that slips your mind, but consider this your gentle reminder: Melons—or any produce with peels—are among the most common fruits people blank on washing, Donne says.

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