A picnic table holds a baguette, cheese and fruit.
Consider outdoor temperatures when putting together a picnic. Consider avoiding foods that must be kept cold or hot. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Before you pack your picnic basket, fire up the grill or load your cooler for the beach, it’s important to follow some simple steps for food safety.

Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, increases in the summer when we’re often taking our food outside and exposing it to higher temperatures, according to Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN.

“A lot of people might balk at food safety because they have let food sit out before and never become sick,” Corwin said. “But … this game of ‘culinary Russian roulette’ is not worth the risk.”

Food safety is important for everyone, but especially pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

Corwin offers these 6 safety tips:

1. Wash your hands

Always wash your hands before preparing or handling food, even when a kitchen faucet and soap is not close by. Pack hand sanitizer and plenty of paper towels for times when running water is not handy.

2. Keep cold foods cold

On days when the mercury rises and the sun beats down, keeping cold foods cold, meaning 40 degrees or colder, can be challenging. Here are suggestions:

  • Pack foods in a cooler with ice packs.
  • Remember that glass and metal containers chill faster than plastic.
  • If you’re packing meat for sandwiches, whether cooked or uncooked, break a small amount into snack or sandwich baggies and then place them in between ice packs to ensure they stay safely cold. If you’re packing raw meat for grilling, store it at the bottom of your cooler to reduce the likelihood that raw juices will drip on fresh food.
  • If you’re cooking food first before bringing it to your picnic and will be serving it cold, allow the food enough time to cool completely before adding it to the picnic basket or cooler. Package it in shallow containers for quick cooling.
  • Don’t leave the cooler in the trunk, even for travel. Keep it with you in the air-conditioned part of the vehicle.
  • Fill your cooler or choose a smaller one to fit the contents. A full cooler will stay cold longer than an empty one.
  • Put drinks in a separate cooler. Every time you open the cooler to get out another drink, you let hot air in.

3. Keep hot foods hot

Use an insulated container for hot soup, chicken dip or chili.

4. Follow the “Two-Hour Rule”

Once perishable food has been sitting out for two hours, throw it out. In the summer’s warm temperatures, or under direct sunlight, that two-hour rule can be reduced to one hour. When in doubt, throw it out.

5. Plan your shopping trips

Visit the frozen foods, dairy and meat sections last when you’re grocery shopping so those foods are out of refrigeration for the least amount of time. Package frozen and perishable foods together in insulated reuseable grocery bags.

6. Grill safely

Don’t cross contaminate. Use one platter and tongs for raw meat and another clean one for cooked meat. Also always use a food thermometer.

United States Department of Agriculture research shows that one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before it’s been cooked to the safe internal temperature of 160 degrees. The only way to be sure meat is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria causing food-borne illnesses is to use a food thermometer. Corwin recommends using this USDA food temperature chart as a guide.

Follow these easy steps, and you don’t have to be afraid to head outside to enjoy your food in the great outdoors.