Memorial Day: picnic season’s official start

May 15, 2012 —

While our DMU campus is buzzing with commencement and the festivities of celebrating the work of our faculty and students, there is another holiday that falls at the end of the month:  Memorial Day. And for many families, Memorial Day is the official start of picnic season.

Keep picnic guests happy and healthy.

What’s the best way to take perishable foods to a picnic site or family get-together? Let’s begin by thinking about the ending: leftovers. Often we plan how to take food to a gathering safely, but after a long day of fun and sun, we don’t have a safe plan for getting the leftovers home, and it’s the leftovers that can pose a larger health risk of food-borne illness. The best advice is to plan enough food for the event so there will not be any left over.

Picnic basket or cooler? The USDA and food safety experts remind us that some foods can go in the picnic basket and don’t need to be kept in a cooler. These include fruits, vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat or fish, chips, bread, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard and pickles.

When you know how much food needs to be kept cold, be sure to use an insulated cooler filled with enough ice or frozen gel packs to keep the food at 40 °F. If you don’t have a good kitchen thermometer, buy one and use it often. Be sure to pack food directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler.

Image courtesy of Seattle King County Public Health

The danger zone temperatures – 40 °F and 140 °F
The dangerous bacteria grow and multiply rapidly in the food safety danger zone of 40 and 140 degrees °F. Food transported without ice and out of a cooler does not stay safe long. Finally, don’t put the cooler in the trunk; carry it inside the air-conditioned car. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid closed and avoid repeated openings.

Here’s wishing you a safe and enjoyable picnic season.


Fritz Nordengren says his blog posts are “lessons learned from 80 acres and a six-burner stove.” When he’s not on campus supervising the final academic project for DMU’s health care administration students, he’s working on his 80-acre poultry ranch in southern Iowa.

He raises and releases ringneck pheasants and ethically grows pasture-raised ducks, turkeys and chickens that are antibiotic-free. While he writes about food, food politics and food systems, he leaves the lecture and policy-wonkish rhetoric in the classroom and shares the personal and family impacts here.