How Long Can Picnic Food Stay Unrefrigerated?

When enjoying meals outdoors, here’s what you need to know to about food safety:

Related: Our Top 50 Recipes for Summer

Keep It Cold

While it’s OK to let picnic foods sit out for a little bit while serving, it’s safer for foods that are meant to be eaten cold—potato salads, coleslaw and even fresh fruit—to be kept cold (40°F or below) to prevent bacterial growth. Instead of letting food sit out on a table, serve it from an ice-filled cooler or from bowls submerged in a deep tray (or small inflatable pool) filled with ice. Cold foods can be held on ice for up to 2 hours; if temps are above 90°F, 1 hour is the limit.

Keep It Hot

Foods like burgers and chicken need to be cooked to a safe internal temperature and served as soon as possible. (If you serve rare steaks or burgers, you’re assuming some risk with under­cooked meat.) All types of cooked food can stay on a picnic spread for up to 2 hours, but as with cold foods, limit it to 1 hour if temps soar above 90°F. Plus, be sure to use clean plates and utensils for serving—using any that touched raw meat risks the spread of foodborne illness.

The Safe Temp

To know if meats are cooked to a temperature that’s safe, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part without touching bone. Here are the temps to aim for:

All poultry: 165°F
Ground meat (beef, pork & lamb): 160°F
Pork (not ground):145°F
Steaks: 145°F
Fish: 145°F (or until flesh flakes easily)

More from EatingWell:

Anything-But-Ordinary Summer Slaws & Salads
Top 50 Grilling Recipes

Stacy Fraser, Health Blog

Stacy Fraser

Stacy Fraser is Test Kitchen manager at EatingWell. With a background in ecological agriculture and many past growing seasons under her belt, Stacy began her study of food in the field, literally. Before joining the crew at EatingWell, Stacy managed the kitchen of breakfast and lunch hot spot Penny Cluse, in downtown Burlington, Vermont, where she learned how to make simple, delicious food from fresh ingredients.

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