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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Time Out For Picnic Food Serving

Time Out For Picnic Food Serving

Are you planning a tailgate party, a company picnic or a   weekend get-together? A few well-planned steps may mean the difference between a food safety nightmare and sure success.

Although you may see ants and other crawling insects outdoors, it is not possible to see, taste or smell harmful microorganisms that may cause illness if food served is mishandled. Make sure that you pack food safety in your carryout box or picnic basket before leaving.

Warm temperatures are ideal for bacteria and other harmful pathogens to multiply and cause foodborne illness. Pathogens grow best between 41F and 140F. Potentially hazardous foods transported without proper temperature control will not stay safe for long. Please make a note of the following to avoid your customers, friends, relatives and guests making a comment to you that they have the "Summer Bug"!

  • PLAN AHEAD. Plan the right amount of food. That way, you will not have to worry about the storage of leftovers.
  • Foods cooked ahead need to be cooked in adequate time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator. Store and transport the food with sufficient ice or refrigeration to MAINTAIN FOODS at 41F or lower.
  • Carryout foods such as fried chicken and barbecue, should be consumed by the guest within two hours or pack ahead of time to store them REFRIGERATED.
  • Divide large quantities of bulk foods into SHALLOW CONTAINERS for quick cooling and quick reheating outdoors.
  • If you are catering, keep all meat and poultry refrigerated to minimize bacterial growth. Use insulated coolers, ice packs, refrigerated containers on trucks to ensure safe temperature. When handling raw meats, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit the cooking needs.
  • Pack salads, deli meats and other cold items by nesting dishes in containers of ice.
  • When outdoors, keep the coolers and other food storage equipment in the shade. Keep the lid closed and AVOID FREQUENT OPENING. Do not forget to replenish ice in the cooler as it melts.
  • If entertaining, set out only SMALL AMOUNTS of food at time and replace with fresh food rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already has food in it.
  • Use SEPARATE COOLERS for drinks so the food containers wont be constantly opened and closed.
  • KEEP HOT FOOD HOT until served. Use a chafing dish, warming tray, steam table, slow cooking pot or on the side of the cooking grill.
  • To destroy all harmful microorganisms, COOK ALL MEATS properly. Keep a product thermometer available to check the internal temperature.

For this, or any food-safety-related information, please contact the Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713/794-9200.

Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services