Don’t let pathogens crash your summer picnic. With summer officially underway, people are gearing up their picnic baskets and grills for a long summer of outdoor dining. But remember that excess heat and humidity combined with outdoor activities make for the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply and spoil your food and your fun.

If your idea of summer is indulgent whipped cream fruit salads, deviled eggs, and grilled chicken and burgers, you should take a few steps to make sure your meal won’t make you sick.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a few tips that will help keep summer fun and food handling safe:

  • Lather up. If running water might not be present, bring soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer or moist towelettes. It’s good to wash hands before eating, but it’s extra important if you’re handling raw meat or poultry.
  • Bring plenty of plates and utensils. Don’t place cooked meat or vegetables on the same plate that once held raw meat.
  • Make packing multiple coolers a habit. You know food needs a cooler — that much you always do right. But if you’re going to be going in and out of a cooler for drinks all day, and that same cooler houses the meat you’re going to cook later in the day, you risk letting it warm into the danger zone where bacteria can grow. Keep drinks and items you’ll likely use right away in a separate cooler. Also, keep pre-made dishes like fresh salsa, guacamole, or bean dips in a cooler away from raw meat (so the juices don’t splatter).
  • Don’t forget your thermometer! Cooking to a safe internal temperature is the only way to make sure your food is safe to consume. Coolers are great, but you can never be totally sure they weren’t opened too often. The only way to make sure meat is safe, is to verify its internal temperature.
    • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal: 145ºF
    • Fish: 145ºF
    • Ground meat: 160ºF
    • Whole poultry, chicken breasts, ground poultry: 165ºF

And remember, while everyone loves leftovers, if you can’t keep them chilled, you’ll have to toss — or maybe share them with your camping neighbor before the 2 hour window of safe time is up.

If you need more information, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline can be reached at (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET or email or chat at

ALSO SEE: More people get sick from this food than any other.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.