Don’t Spoil the Fun: Tips for Safe Picnics & Cookouts

three kids eating watermelon on the beach

by Pat Molnar

A picnic or cookout is a relaxing way to share food and fellowship with friends and family, coworkers, a community group or even just a quiet outing for a family on a sunny afternoon. You spend the day grilling, sharing your favorite dishes and playing games. Some of you might even bring the family dog. You would hate to ruin such a happy event with a foodborne illness, an accident or too much of a good thing. Take a look at these picnic safety precautions to ensure your get-together will be the carefree event you imagined.

a family of six having a barbeque while camping near the beach
Gathering with family and friends for a safe and fun outdoor cookout is a great way to enjoy the summer months.

Don’t Invite Bacteria

Foodborne illness is the direct result of improper food handling. Wash hands and utensils properly with a jug of clean water and soap. Choose recipes that will do better in heat like oil dressings vs. mayo dressings. Return items to the cooler as soon as you are done using them. Be sure to pack your drinks in a separate cooler because every time you open the lid, you are increasing the temperature inside. Store coolers in a shady spot instead of returning them to the car or trunk, especially if you have perishable food inside.

vegetables and meat kebabs on the bbq grill
Check for the most up-to-date rules for grilling at the beach or park.

Practice Grill Safety

If using a public grill, don’t forget to clean it before using by burning off any leftover residue and scraping with a grill brush. Don’t cross-contaminate by reusing the same platter for cooked meat that also carried the raw meat. When cooking, use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Grilled food should not be out for longer than an hour before you refrigerate it. It is best to cook just what you need and discard the rest. When you are done cooking, make sure the coals are completely out before leaving the picnic area.

When planning your beach cookout, it is important to research the local beach rules and regulations. The State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) carefully oversees beach closures and use of parks and beaches. As such, they have specific regulations on grilling in Hawaii. For example, the type of grill you can use and the types of charcoal and wood you can burn. These rules also include securing all private grills and gas containers with a weight or stake to ensure they don’t move away in an accident. Be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date beach and park rules before you plan your outdoor fun.

Selecting the right food to bring on your family beach cookout is key. Hotdogs and sandwiches are fan favorites and safe options, as they’re simple to prepare and relatively mess-free. Whatever food is chosen, think ahead and make sure you bring different snacks and drinks to keep everyone energized and happy. Have some snacks prepared, so no one goes hungry while they wait for food to cook.

various children friendly bentos
Be prepared and pack some snacks for the younger children and pickier eaters.

No Bugs Allowed

Let’s face it. You are hosting a party in the bugs’ living room without inviting them. When you set up camp, don’t leave food uncovered or on the ground. If you spill anything, pick it up right away. Sugary liquids, like soda, attract bees so it is best to pour water on it and keep open cans covered. You can make a chemical free bug repellent using witch hazel and essential oils.

Enjoy the Sun in Moderation

We can all agree that a perfect picnic includes a sunny day, but we don’t want to overdo it. According to Sun Safety Alliance, you can burn even on a cloudy day, so your picnic basket should include sunscreen. Children get three times the sun exposure as adults so reapply after swimming or perspiring. Be sure to take a break from the sun in a shady spot and cool down. Hydration is very important, so drink plenty of water. Not certain if you had enough? Check out for a great hydration calculator.

Pack a First Aid Kit

Accidents happen so it is best to be prepared. Pack a first aid kit with ibuprofen for minor aches and pains, aloe for sunburn, Benadryl for minor allergies and bug bites, plus bandages and antiseptic for cuts and scrapes. Other helpful items might include a blanket, paper towels, scissors and plastic bags. Make sure to bring heavy duty trash bags for keeping the beach or park clean.

Keep Fido Safe, Too

Many picnickers bring the whole family along and that includes their dog. To keep him safe, double check that he is up to date on his vaccines, including flea and tick prevention. Be certain he is wearing his collar that has current ID tags on it. Bring a leash to secure him in your campsite while you are nearby but don’t leave him unattended and please don’t leave him in the car. Make sure he has plenty of fresh water to drink, his own food and a blanket or towel to lay down on in a shady spot when he gets hot.

Pu’uhonua o Waimanalo is one of the most popular beaches on Oahu’s windward side and is a great place for families to gather for outdoor cookouts and picnics.

The beach is located at the end of Waimanalo Beach Road, just before the road dead-ends at the Sea Life Park Hawaii. Pu’uhonua o Waimanalo is a wide and sandy beach that stretches for almost two miles. There are several pavilions and picnic tables near the parking lot, as well as a playground and a few small concession stands on busy weekends. The water at Pu’uhonua o Waimanalo is generally calm and clear, making it perfect for swimming and boogie boarding.

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