Blog icon

By Dr Rozita Vaskoska 7 January 2022 4 min read

It's the perfect time for a summer picnic. But if you’re planning an alfresco feast, keep food safety in the outdoors in mind. The last thing you want is to turn a special occasion into a sickening one.

The most common foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic E coli, Campylobacter, Hepatitis A and Salmonella. They reach their peak in the summer period because they thrive in food sitting in the warm sun and humid air.

Seventy per cent of foodborne illnesses result from food served outside of people’s homes. So for that picnic, barbeque or camping trip, ensure your food will be served fresh, and most importantly safe.

Here are some tips to help you keep your food safe when dining outdoors this season.

1. Use fresh and safe food

The fresher the food you take from home, the greater the chance it will stay that way during your outing. If you’re not sure whether to take that meat you defrosted a few days ago, it's best to avoid it. Buy fresh vegetables and fruit for your salads. Buy fresh meat well before its use-by date and bring it home as soon as possible (under two hours). Also remember to keep it refrigerated until you leave home.

2. Slice 'n dice portions

Try to minimise handling meat outdoors as there could be fewer hygiene measures on hand. Portion meat at home or buy just what you need.

Prepare fresh salads so you only need to add dressing at the point of consumption. Pre-cut salad items and fruit can be more vulnerable to contamination or growth of microorganisms than whole produce. So it is important to transport them cold in an Esky if pre-cut.

Desserts should ideally also be pre-portioned to avoid additional handling when you’re out.

3. Potentially hazardous foods

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand categorises food which requires temperature control at all times as potentially hazardous.

The list of potentially hazardous foods is long. It includes raw and cooked meat, seafood, dairy products, foods containing eggs, desserts and sprouted seeds. Also prepared fruits and vegetables, cooked rice, fresh and cooked pasta, and items that contain combinations of foods such as sandwiches, pizzas and rice rolls. These foods should be kept cold at all times. If they’re pre-packaged, don't open them before using them on your day out. This way you can ensure they won't be exposed to outside sources of contamination.

Any opened item from your fridge, such as a carton of milk, a pack of deli meat or a bottle of mayonnaise will already have some microbial growth. Taking it along on a picnic increases the chances of it reaching dangerous levels of microorganisms thanks to warm and humid conditions.

4. Ice, ice baby

Pack your food in a cooler bag, a box filled with ice or a pre-refrigerated Esky. Do not put raw meat on top of ready to eat food as it may leak and cause cross-contamination. This goes for storing food in your fridge too. Preferably pack raw meat and ready to eat foods in separate bags. Keep your Esky in the cool part of your vehicle, where the cold air-conditioned air circulates.

5. Nab a top spot

If you intend to prepare food at your destination, aim to go where there are handwashing facilities. Take soap to wash your hands just in case. If there are no handwashing facilities there, take plenty of water, soap and hand sanitiser.

6. Gloves - stop contamination getting out of hand

You might think gloves will protect your food from harmful bacteria. However, they can cross-contaminate food in the same way as your hands. Gloves create a barrier between your skin and the food, but they touch food the same as your hands do. Therefore, touching raw meat before preparing a salad is not a good idea even when wearing gloves. It's best to use clean gloves.

7. Two tongs (or more) make a right

Take enough tongs and utensils to avoid touching too many foods. Use different utensils for putting fresh meat on the barbeque, for handling cooked meat and for serving salad. If you only have one pair of tongs available, wash them thoroughly with water and detergent before using again.

8. Chop it like it’s hot

Take a handheld thermometer to check the temperature of barbequed meat. The New South Wales Food Authority recommends 63°C as the minimum internal temperature for beef, veal, lamb and pork and 74°C for chicken.

9. Highway to the danger zone

When it comes to food safety, you need to be aware of the ‘danger zone’. It's between 5°C and 60°C, above refrigeration and below steaming temperatures. This is when bacteria are most likely to be having a picnic on your food. Food left in the danger zone for four hours or longer should be thrown out.

If you’ve left any food like fresh or cooked meat, cut salads, sliced fruit and desserts in the danger zone during your outing don’t take them home. If you have kept meat cold or at ambient temperature for less than two hours, you can take it home, store it for maximum of four days and reheat to 75°C.

10. Serve an ace

You have made all these efforts to prepare and handle the food safely. All you have to do now is enjoy.

For more food safety outdoors tips, find out if the 'sniff test' is an adequate barometer of freshness.

Contact us

Find out how we can help you and your business. Get in touch using the form below and our experts will get in contact soon!

CSIRO will handle your personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and our Privacy Policy.

First name must be filled in

Surname must be filled in

I am representing *

Please choose an option

Please provide a subject for the enquriy

0 / 100

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer

0 / 1900

You shouldn't be able to see this field. Please try again and leave the field blank.