Are you ready for a safe picnic?

Follow safe food handling practices when having a picnic.

Here’s a tasty item you could prepare at home and pack in your cooler for a picnic. (NDSU photo)

I always looked forward to picnics when I was a kid.

We weren’t frequent travelers, so driving a couple of hours to a state park was quite a big deal.

Back then, our car did not have air conditioning. We left really early in the morning to avoid the mid-day heat. We often arrived before we could get a ticket to enter the park.

Fairly soon after we settled at a picnic table, the park was crowded with people wading and swimming in the nearby lake.

I loved to lounge in one of our webbed lawn chairs and enjoy the delicious food we brought. If I leaned back too far, the green lawn chair would fold up and swallow me like an alligator. Fortunately, I was never “bitten” by the lawn chair as it folded.


July is National Picnic Month, and it’s a time to create good memories.

When enjoying a picnic, safety is important for many reasons from food safety to sun safety. More recently, COVID-19 tops the list of concerns throughout the U.S.

As I was pondering this week’s topic, I checked the COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before you leave your home, check if the park or other recreational area is open for visitors. Read the guidance information specific to that recreational area.

Getting together with large crowds of strangers is not a good plan, especially in multiple states that are facing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Follow state and national advice.

Further, if you are sick, have tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed within the last 14 days to COVID-19, stay home. Don’t risk exposing other people of any age.

Visit parks that are near your home because traveling long distances could bring you in contact with people at rest stops or convenience stores who might be carrying the virus.

Although meeting new people is fun, stay with your own family or others who live with you. Remember to keep your social distance of 6 feet.


The CDC also advises that we wear cloth face coverings as feasible, especially when social distancing is difficult. Wash your hands often, or use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol.

See the website for more advice on COVID-19.

Food safety also can be an issue during picnics. Think about your menu and how you will manage the temperature of foods.

  • Keep perishable foods cool by transporting them in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Perishable foods include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, pasta, rice, cooked vegetables, and fresh, peeled and cut fruits and vegetables.
  • Pack the cooler just before leaving home. Foods chilling in your refrigerator should be placed directly in your cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Avoid frequently opening coolers containing perishable food. Storing beverages and perishable foods in separate coolers is a good idea.
  • Keep the cooler in an air-conditioned vehicle during travel and in the shade at the picnic site. Avoid transporting the cooler in your vehicle’s trunk.
  • If you do not have a good way to keep cold foods cold, consider less perishable foods such as whole fruit and peanut butter sandwiches.

See for additional picnic safety advice.

Finally, remember that the sun’s rays are most damaging between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Protect yourself all day by using a broad-spectrum sun screen and reapplying it at least every two hours.

Wear a brimmed hat to protect your face and neck. Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing high-quality sunglasses.

For an interesting swap from typical picnic fare, here’s a tasty item you could prepare at home and pack in your cooler. Toast the bread on a grill right before spreading the tasty topping or wrap the toasted bread separately from the topping.

Red Pepper Bruschetta

1 bulb garlic


1 teaspoon olive oil (for roasting garlic)

2 tablespoons olive oil (for recipe)

2 medium sweet red peppers, halved and seeded

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh or bottled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


1 loaf French bread (12 ounces)

Heat oven to 425 F. Remove outer skin of garlic bulb (do not separate cloves). Brush with 1 teaspoon oil. Wrap in foil and bake 20 minutes until soft. Rinse peppers, remove seeds and cut in half. Place on baking sheet, skin side up. Place in oven under broiler (or on grill) until skins blister, about 10 minutes. Immediately place peppers in a paper bag and let stand for about 15 minutes. Peel and discard charred skin. Coarsely chop peppers. Cut top from garlic bulb, squeeze garlic out and chop finely. While garlic and peppers are cooking, prepare remaining ingredients. In a bowl, combine parsley, basil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and remaining oil. Add peppers and garlic; mix well. Cut bread in about 16 pieces, then broil or grill until toasted slightly. Top toasted bread with pepper mixture and serve immediately.

(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson .)

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

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