A grill with chicken and a thermometer.

Five Tools For Safe Outdoor Dining

Most of us are not experts at cooking on the grill. Neither are we wizards at putting together the perfect picnic. It’s a totally different animal than using the stovetop and serving at the table. But nothing is better than food with those great char marks or an artisan sandwich at the beach. So we fire up that grill and lay down our checkered blankets and plan an entire meal on them, and it's going to be awesome.

But do you know what isn’t awesome? Sending a friend to the hospital with food poisoning. In the summer months, rates of food poisoning increase significantly. And it is mostly because of poor food handling practices. From the time we buy food in the grocery store until we put it away as leftovers, it is important we handle food with care. These five every day items will help you keep your food safe to eat while still being delicious.


Unsafe temperatures allow bacteria to grow, that can lead to illness. The best way to make sure you are safe, is to invest in a bunch of thermometers. And not just for meats, but salads as well. During all stages of food preparation and eating, checking temperatures is the most important thing you can do to prevent illness.

When marinating food, make sure it is done in the refrigerator. Do not leave food, meats especially, on the counter. Place them in the fridge so you don't have to worry about harmful bacteria growing. When cooking on the grill, be sure to use your meat thermometer to check and make sure food is cooked all the way through. Every piece of meat should be checked due to varying sizes of items and inconsistent temperatures on different parts of the grill. And lastly, use thermometers to check the temperature of food items that have been sitting out after serving them. You can cook and serve food at the perfect temperature but if you leave it out for 4 hours in ninety degree weather, someone will get sick. This goes for macaroni and potato salads, as well as ribs and burgers.

Insulated Shopping Bags

Whether you get your groceries from the store or the farm, unless you live right next door, insulated shopping bags are a must, especially when it's warm out. Even a ten minute drive home can increase the temperature of raw chicken to an unhealthy level. However, keeping a cooler or insulated bag in your car will keep your food out of the danger zone of foodborne illness.

Soap and Water

When you're sitting down to the dinner table everyone remembers to run and wash their hands before the meal. Being cleaned up for supper is a long standing American tradition. However, when we are called to dinner at the picnic table, for some reason we don't think to stop and wash up. Whether it be catching lightning bugs, yard work, or even cooling off in the river we end up sharing the day's activities with our loved ones, and not in the best way. Just think, little jimmy was catching bugs all day and then he clumsily picks up the burger right next to yours. Who needs ketchup when you can have bugs and dirt season your food?

So be sure to have everyone wash their hands before it is time to eat. Not by running water? No problem. Just pack cleansing wipes or hand sanitizer and pass it around. We love our friends and family, but we don't love the germs they track around with them.

Clean Utensils

One of the hardest parts about eating outside is that all of our cooking and serving utensils are inside. Transferring everything to a new dining and cooking area can be hard, and most of the time, something is forgotten. Whether it is ketchup or napkins, it's bound to happen. But just don't let it be your clean serving utensils. Many times, we will just use what was left out from cooking, however those utensils have been in contact with raw foods, and can have harmful bacteria on them. Even if you used your thermometers, and washed your hands, raw chicken juice on your potato salad from the serving fork, will make anyone sick. So make sure you either take the time to clean the utensils that were already used, or have extras set aside specifically for serving.

Mesh Food Covers

It is a well known fact that insects carry illness and germs with them. But did you know that they don't have to bite us to spread them? Flies and bugs land on all sorts of surfaces, and when they land on our food they transfer it to us. So the fly that landed on Fido’s last landmine, may be claiming real estate on grandma's blueberry pie… GROSS!

But insects are so hard to get rid of. Every time you swat a fly off your hot dogs, another one lands on your grilled vegetables. So how do you prevent flies from leaving little unwanted presents all over your food? Mesh food covers. They are light, see through, inexpensive, and can be used anywhere. They will safely keep the bugs away, while allowing easy access to your food. Best part is they are reusable, which is so much better for the environment than wasteful aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

Eating outside is the best! But waking up the next morning not sick is even better. So be sure to keep your friends and family safe at your next outdoor gathering by checking food temperatures, keeping clean hands and utensils, and covering your food.

The information in this article is for general educational purposes only, and should not be construed or interpreted as medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any medical condition or treatment, and before undertaking a new heathcare regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article or any linked materials.

Anna Mahoney is a Licensed Acupuncturist with a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition from Rutgers University. In her practice, she focuses on bringing her patients back to health through Chinese Medicine, nutritional counseling, and overall wellness care. In her personal life, she is a passionate cook, musician, yogi, and athlete. Anna lives in New Jersey, with her husband, John, and their dog, Betty. Anna blogs at The Green Banana.