- Temperature. Cold foods need to stay cold – at or below 40°F. Consider packing two coolers, one with beverages and another one with food. This way, the temperature in the food cooler won’t be lowered by people opening and closing it to get drinks. Open the food cooler only as much as absolutely necessary to help keep the food inside at a safe temperature. It’s also important that hot food stays hot, at or above 140°F. If you’re grilling, move food that is finished but not ready to serve to the side of the grill, away from the hottest coals. This will keep the food hot without overcooking it.
- Time. Once the food has been served, it should not stay in the “danger zone” – any temperature between 40°F and 140°F – for more than two hours, so keep in mind how long the food has been out. If you leave in a hotter climate, you need to be even more careful; if the temperature outside is above 90°F, it should not remain out for more than one hour, so plan your meal times accordingly.
- Prevent cross-contamination. Don’t reuse plates and utensils that were used to hold raw meat, chicken or seafood. Be sure to have clean plates and utensils available with which to serve the food once it has been cooked. If you want to marinate your meat, marinate in the refrigerator beforehand, not on the kitchen counter or outdoors. If you want to save some marinade to use on the meat while grilling, put some to one side before adding the meat to it; don’t just reuse the marinade that the raw meat was sitting in.
- Clean produce carefully. Always rinse fresh produce before eating, even if the produce has a skin or rind that won’t be eaten. If the fruits and vegetables have firm skins, scrub them with a vegetable brush or rub them with your (clean) hands while rinsing.
Finally, keep in mind the most important rule in food safety: Wash your hands before and after cooking or eating anything! If your picnic space doesn’t have running water, bring a jug of water, some soap, and some paper towels for hand washing. As a last resort, use antibacterial sanitizer, but this does not do as thorough a job as washing under running water. Remember to have fun and stay safe, and enjoy your Labor Day festivities.