Marjorie Geiser

Article Summary:

Tips for barbeque and picnic food safety.

Barbeque and Picnic Food Safety Tips

Barbeques and picnics always mean more foods sitting out, shared by multiple people. This is the time that we all need to pay particular attention to the fact that food safety is NOT something to be taken lightly. Although just the thought of suffering from nausea, vomiting and severe diarrhea should be enough to motivate people to take food safety seriously, often people don't think about it until it's too late.

Over 250 organisms are known to cause foodborne illnesses. The causes of foodborne illness include viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, metals, and prions, and the symptoms of foodborne illness range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening neurologic, hepatic, and renal syndromes. In the United States, foodborne diseases have been estimated to cause 6 million to 81 million illnesses and up to 9,000 deaths each year.

Keeping track of people who actually suffer from foodborne illness is complicated by several factors. The first is that many cases are not ever reported. If you are sick, but not sick enough to see your doctor or be hospitalized, it's unlikely you would report it to the CDC. However, the CDC requests that you do report it if you do suspect you suffered from food illness after eating at a restaurant. There are many cases where this reporting helped stop a potential serious outbreak.

A foodborne disease outbreak is defined as a group of people developing the same illnesses after ingesting the same food. If you think you or others became ill from eating the same food, please report this outbreak to your local (city or county) health department. By investigating outbreaks, public health officials learn about problems in food production that lead to illness. Applying what is learned in the investigation of one outbreak can help to prevent many future illnesses.

Second, many pathogens transmitted through food are also spread through water or from person to person, thus obscuring the role of foodborne transmission. Finally, some proportion of foodborne illness is caused by pathogens or agents that have not yet been identified and thus cannot be diagnosed. The importance of this final factor cannot be overstated. Many of the pathogens of greatest concern today (e.g., Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Cyclospora cayetanensis) were not recognized as causes of foodborne illness just 20 years ago.

Do you know how long that potato salad has sat out? Do you know what may have stopped by to "visit" your container of mayo salad dressing topping that's on the table, next to the hot dogs? Never take food safety lightly.

Here are some tips how you can practice food safety at your summer barbeques and picnics.

Wash hands
Frequently wash your hands - before and after eating.  If you anticipate no running water available where you are, be sure to pack a waterless hand sanitizer in your bag.  Remind family members to do the same.

Check that cold foods are cold
Be certain that foods you are eating are as cold as they should be.  Be sure bowls of cold food are nesting in bowls filled with ice.

Check how the meats are cooked
Before biting into a burger - break it open to be sure it looks thoroughly cooked - brown in the middle.  Be sure you do not eat chicken that has pink inside.

Pay attention to how food is served
Check that each salad or plate of food has its own serving utensils. 

Eat once food is served
Eating once food is brought out lessens the chance of bacteria growing as it sits out.

Ask your host
Finally - if you have any questions about how the food was prepared or how long something has been out - ASK.  Chances are your host or hostess will want to assure you that she has taken appropriate food-safety precautions as she prepared for the barbecue.

Barbeques and picnics are a great way to get together with friends and family and enjoy some special foods - just be sure to take those necessary precautions.

Marjorie Geiser is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and life coach. Marjorie has been the owner of a successful small business, MEG Fitness, since 1996, and now helps other nutrition professionals start up their own private practice. To learn more about the services Margie offers, go to her website at or email her at

Margie Geiser may be contacted at

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