Your kids are back in school and days are getting a little shorter. The end of summer will be here before you know it but there’s still time to head out and make the most of the last few summer days.

A picnic at a local park, by the lake, at the beach or even a backyard gathering with family and friends is an easy way to enjoy the outdoors before the crisp, cool autumn air arrives.

Keep in mind that, if you are going to spend a considerable amount of time outside, whatever food items you bring will likely spend some time sitting out in the sun.

Here are some basic warm-weather precautions to prevent harmful bacteria from causing food poisoning:

There are many approaches to handling picnic food. As you plan your outing, keep in mind that food-borne bacteria multiply faster in warm weather—and the larger the dose of bacteria the more likely it will lead to food poisoning.

Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs should be kept separated from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. Keep these items separate when storing them in the refrigerator as well.

As you prepare your food, designate one cutting board for produce and another for raw meat, poultry and seafood. If you plan to grill more than one type of raw food at once, thoroughly clean the cutting board with soap and hot water between uses.

If you are using marinades on raw food, you should discard marinades once you start cooking. Repurposing marinades to use as sauces can increase the risk for bacterial infections.

And don’t forget that cooked foods should never be placed on plates that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs unless the plate has been washed in hot, soapy water.

Fruits and vegetables are a staple at most gatherings. Sometimes they contain harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, that can make you and your family sick.

Make sure you thoroughly wash all produce before eating, even if you plan to peel it. The knife you use to peel it can carry bacteria into the part you eat. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice.

Before your picnic

  • Defrost meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator or by submerging sealed packages in cold water. You can also microwave-defrost, but only if the food will be grilled immediately afterward.
  • Marinate foods in the fridge, not on the countertop.
  • If your picnic site doesn't offer clean water access, bring water or pack moist towels for cleaning surfaces and hands. Don't forget to pack a food thermometer!

When packing coolers

  • Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home.
  • Use lots of ice or ice packs to keep your cooler at 40 °F or below.
  • Pack raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler if possible, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can't drip onto other foods.
  • Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed.
  • Load coolers into the passenger side of the car – it's cooler than the trunk. Once you arrive at the picnic site, keep food in coolers and out of direct sun until serving time, and avoid opening the lids often.

When grilling

  • Have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the right temperatures (use the Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart at as a guide) – use a food thermometer to be sure.
  • Keep cooked meats hot at 140 °F or warmer until serving time – set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot.
  • When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter.

Watch the time and outside temperature

Don't let hot or cold foods sit out in the "Danger Zone" (between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than two hours – or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F. If they do, throw them away.

Sources: U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control