News | Published June 13, 2013 | Written by Gary Glenn, CEC, director and executive chef, nutrition & culinary services, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Making picnic food delicious and safe

When eating at a restaurant, you expect the restaurant and its employees to follow food-safety practices. These same standards should also apply to you. As picnic season begins, make sure you are following these food safety tips to safely eat outdoors.

Keep it hot or cold: It is important to keep food at proper temperatures to prevent the growth of foodborne bacteria.

  • Cold food: Make sure you keep cold, perishable food in the cooler until it’s served. To help keep food chilled while it’s being served, fill a shallow container with ice and place the food dishes directly on top. If you cannot keep the food on ice, make sure the dish doesn’t sit out longer than two hours (or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90° F).
  • Hot food: Keep hot food in an insulated container until you serve it. For meats on the grill, move it to the side of the grill rack and off the coals until it’s ready to be served. As with cold food, food that needs to be hot should not sit out for more than two hours (or one hour in temperatures above 90° F). To be safe, throw away any food that is left out longer than recommended.

Organize your cooler:

  • Pack your perishable foods in a separate cooler from drinks. This will help ensure perishable foods are not exposed to the warm air when picnickers continuously open the cooler to replenish their drinks.
  • Keep raw meats on the bottom of the cooler so they don’t drip on other foods, and store them in sealed plastic bags.
  • A full cooler will stay cold longer, so make sure you use an appropriately-sized cooler.

Make the right recipe:

  • Try to avoid mayonnaise-based recipes like potato salad and coleslaw since foods containing mayo need to be kept cold. Instead try to swap your dish for a recipe that uses vinegar instead. This not only lowers your food-safety risk, but it also cuts down on calories and is a healthier option.
  • To surely be a hit at your next picnic, use some of my favorite recipes – Spinach & Cashew Rice Salad and Lemon Yogurt Sauce – which is not only tasty, but great for picnics.  

Spinach & Cashew Rice Salad


  • 2 cups  Cooked brown rice, cooked using vegetable stock, refrigerate
  • 6 oz.    Baby spinach, wash & dry
  • 3 ea.    Celery stocks, wash, slice thin
  • 1 ea.    Red bell pepper, wash, medium dice
  • 3 ea.    Green onion, wash, slice in rings
  • 1 cup   Cashew nuts
  • ¼ cup  Flat Italian parsley, wash dry, chop
  • ½ cup  Vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup  Soy sauce, low sodium
  • 2 ea.    Garlic cloves, peel, mince fine


  1. Using a large mixing bowl, combine chilled rice, spinach, celery, bell pepper, green onion, cashew nuts and parsley. Toss and refrigerate.
  2. Dressing: Using a small mixing bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, soy sauce and minced garlic. Pour over rice salad and toss. Season with a pinch of black pepper.
  3. Serve chilled as a side salad or family style bowl. Great topped with grilled shrimp, fish or chicken.

Lemon Yogurt Sauce


  • ½ cup  Yogurt, low fat
  • 2 tbsp.  Lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  • Pinch   Lemon zest, fine
  • Pinch   Salt


  1. Using a small mixing bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Refrigerate.

Note: Lemon Yogurt Sauce is great served over angel food or pound cake topped with fresh berries.

For more of my recipes, please visit If you would like more picnicking tips, visit the, or go to for important information by the National Restaurant Association© on how to follow food safety practices at home.