Whether you call it a picnic, a barbecue, or a cookout, nothing quite says summer memories like gathering as a family to eat outdoors. The warm weather entices folks to move out of the kitchen and into the backyard or out to the nearest state park. Unfortunately, summer is also prime time for many seasonal injuries and illnesses. From monitoring the weather before you go to avoiding sunburns, grill fires, and food poisoning, these tips will help ensure that you have a fun and safe family picnic.
Picnic Food Safety Tips
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the incidence of food poisoning increases in the summer for two reasons. First, the warmer temperatures are friendlier for the bacteria that cause illness. Second, more people take their meals outdoors, where there is less access to refrigeration and sanitation. These modern conveniences help keep us safe from salmonella and listeria.
The USDA recommends a four-part strategy to keep your picnic food safe.
- Clean. Wash your hands frequently before and after handling food. Pack hand sanitizer if you're away from home.
- Separate. Cross-contamination is a major cause of foodborne illness. Keep raw and cooked foods away from each other. Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meats and wash knives, cutting boards, and other utensils immediately after using them to prepare raw meat. If you're heading out to a barbecue, consider packing raw meat and seafood in a separate cooler from salads, fruits, and desserts.
- Chill. Keep all perishable foods in the fridge or in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice until ready to eat and return them promptly. Keep cold food chilled to 40 °F (4.4 °C). An inexpensive refrigerator thermometer can help ensure that you're holding foods at a safe temperature. Finally, if food sits out for more than two hours (one hour at 90 degrees or above), throw it out.
- Cook. Cook meats to a safe temperature and check them using a meat thermometer.
Keep in mind that produce also carries bacteria, and many of the largest recent outbreaks of foodborne illness have resulted from produce. Wash all fruit and fresh vegetables before eating them (or prepping salads, for example).
Barbecue and Grilling Safety Tips
Grills cause more than 10,000 fires every year and nearly 20,000 burns severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room. These safety tips can help keep your family safe around the grill and ensure that you don't remember your weekend barbecue as "the day we burned down the garden shed."
- Only use charcoal or gas grills outdoors.
- Situate the grill at least 3 feet away from the house, deck rails, eaves, or overhanging branches. (Check your local laws, though. In Massachusetts, for example, grills must be 10 feet away from structures.)
- Keep a 3-foot no-kids zone around the grill.
- Use long-handled grilling tools to protect the chef.
- Do not leave the grill unattended while it is lit.
- Do not add charcoal lighter fluid after the fire is burning.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Clean the grill well before and after use to make sure you're grilling your food on a clean surface.
In addition, there are safety tips that apply to specific types of grills:
- Open the lid before lighting a propane or gas grill.
- If you smell gas while cooking, turn off the grill and move away from it, then call 911.
- Keep all propane 10 feet away from doors, windows, and dryer vents, and at least 20 feet away from air intake vents.
- Charcoal gives off carbon monoxide. Always use charcoal grills in a well-ventilated area outdoors and avoid using them near open windows. As an extra precaution, check wind direction on a home weather station and situate your grill accordingly.
- Always dispose of used coals safely. Wait until they are completely cool. If you must dispose of them sooner, douse them in water and put them in a closed metal can.
Family Outdoor Safety Tips
No one wants a painful sunburn or nasty rash as a souvenir of the day outdoors. Being prepared for the weather and the environment helps keep your whole family safe for a fun day.
- Bring plenty of sunscreen, even on a cloudy day, and remember to reapply it often.
- Wear sunglasses or UV-blocking lenses.
- Cover exposed areas of skin during the peak hours of the day — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Light cotton shirts and a wide-brimmed hat provide decent protection.
- Stake out your picnic site near the shade so you can get out of the sun when needed. If there's no natural shade, pack a canopy or sun umbrella.
- If you're hiking or playing in a wooded area, wear white socks. They make it easy to spot ticks and pick them off.
- Use insect repellent to avoid bug bites.
- Bring a first aid kit for minor emergencies.
- Keep a close eye on changing weather conditions. Summer is notorious for unexpected thunderstorms. A portable lightning detector will give you advance warning in case you need to pack up and get to safety.
- Pack cleansing wipes or washcloths to encourage the kids to wash up before eating.
Planning Ahead for a Perfect Day
An AcuRite weather station provides a lot of the information you need to plan a backyard barbecue or picnic at the park. Beyond the weather forecast, you can check the prevailing wind direction and speed, the UV index (so you're prepared for the sun), and the historical rain data (because dry conditions increase the danger of fires).
Additionally, consider where and when you'll be eating, cooking, and parking. If you'll be traveling, make sure that you pack any perishables in well-insulated coolers and bring along all the tools and supplies you'll need to keep food safe to eat. Be sure to Include wet wipes, first aid supplies, at least one good cooler, and thermometers for checking food temperature. Grill masters can also grab cool gadgets for the perfect barbecue.
Whether you're picnicking in the wilds or enjoying a backyard barbecue, following basic safety tips can help you enjoy your day to the fullest. Keep food at the right temperature, keep surfaces — and hands — clean, keep fire away from houses and kids, and have a great day.