Food Safety: How To Pack For a Picnic

published May 23, 2014
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(Image credit: Arina P Habich)

Packing for a picnic might seem like a breeze since, unlike a barbecue, there’s no on-site cooking or raw meat involved. But since you’re traveling and eating outside without the convenience of refrigeration, here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re loading up the picnic basket to pack it safely.

(Image credit: Africa Studio)

Keep It Cool

  • You still need a cooler. Pack your cute picnic basket with non-perishable food, napkins, and dinnerware, but pack all perishable items in an insulated cooler with ice packs. A cooler will also keep your drinks icy-cold- nothing ruins a picnic like warm soda, beer, or wine.
  • Keep your cooler cold. This may be a no-brainer, but make sure you have enough ice or ice packs to keep things cold for the whole trip, including getting home. If you’re short on space to fit a lot of ice, freeze some of the drinks. Keep the cooler closed as much as possible so you don’t let heat in.

Food Choices Matter

  • Try to choose non-perishable foods. Vinegar-based salads and dips without dairy are good choices that don’t spoil as easily. If creamy onion dip or ranch dressing is a must-have at the picnic, serve it out of an insulated cup to stay cold longer. Stick to simple desserts like cookies and brownies that don’t need to be kept cold.
  • Think about cooler size. You can only bring as much perishable food as you can pack in your cooler, so factor that in when you plan your menu.

Pack It Right

  • Keep everything separate. To avoid things from spilling and mixing into each other, store different foods in separate containers. Use resealable plastic bags for sandwiches, fruit, cheeses, and vegetables, and place those at the top of the cooler so they don’t get crushed. Use resealable containers for dips, sauces, and salads, and wrap the containers in plastic wrap if they don’t close tightly.
  • Pack perishable food at the last minute. To keep things cold for as long as possible, resist the urge to pack the cooler hours ahead. Place everything you’re bringing on the same shelf in the refrigerator so you can just grab-and-go when you’re ready to leave.

The basic rule of thumb when packing and keeping food safe for picnics is to keep everything as cold as possible, for as long as possible. Other than that, what delicious things you bring along are up to you!

What tips do you have for packing a picnic safely?