By: Candess Zona-Mendola

If you are like me, hitting the warm sands of the beach this month with the kids is a summer must. We love to pack all of the essentials – umbrellas, towels, sand toys, and of course, picnic foods. Food is a must-have for us when we spend all day at the beach. But having food sit for a long time in the heat is a recipe for disaster. The last thing I want after a long day in the sun with the family is food poisoning. I am sure you agree!

Many people have read article upon article of what to pack for a beach day. Some meticulously plan picnics and the perfect snacks for such an outing. But many may not know how to pack their food items to prevent dangerous bacteria from getting their children, their significant other, their friends, and even themselves, sick. As temperatures outside rise, so does the risk for food poisoning. In fact, foodborne illnesses peak in the summer months. As children and elderly adults are among those who are most likely to have complications after foodborne illness, a little bit of preventive practice is great way to help keep those stats low.

Tips and Tricks

Wondering where to start? Fret not, there are some easy tips and tricks to keep in mind for anyone who wants to make the most of their beach day without the threat of food-related sickness soon after.

  • Keep Cold Foods Cold. When food hits a temperature above 40°F, it enters the “danger zone”. This is when bacteria multiply the quickest and spoil food. We like to pack our cold items in a cooler, with plenty of ice or cold packs. The more cold items, the merrier! If you have a double-insulated cooler, like a Yeti, or one that plugs into a power source, that’s even better. We like to freeze bottled water when we pack our cooler. This way we have extra cold sources that are not wasting space. Storing your cooler out of the sun, burying it in the same, and opening it only when absolutely needed will give you the most time before all of your ice melts.


  • Store Raw Meat or Fish in a Separate Place. Campfires and beach barbecues are commonplace in some cities. Grilling freshly caught fish near the ocean is a wonderful experience at beaches that allow such practices. But these meat items can easily contaminate ready-to-eat foods. It is a good idea if you plan on grilling or cooking raw meat or fish to store them in a separate cooler than your other food and drinks. Also, it is a good idea to completely wash and sanitize that cooler before putting any other food items back in it.


  • Keep in Mind the Two Hour Rule. Hot foods or anything taken out of your cooler has a rapid expiration time – 2 hours (or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is over 90°F). The temperature of food entering “the danger zone” is especially concerning when at the beach. If you have lost track of time and are unsure if two hours (or 1 hour) has passed, it is best to operate by the mantra “when in doubt, throw it out!”


  • Clean Hands, Clean Mouths. Sand and ocean water are not necessarily the cleanest and are the homes of many different types of bacteria. They are, after all, in nature. And let’s face it, sand gets everywhere. By having antibacterial hand wipes, antibacterial sanitizers with an alcohol content of at least 60%, or even a place to wash hands with soap and water handy, you have your best defense against ingesting bad bacteria. Hand washing is one of the best defenders against food poisoning.


  • If It Looks Dirty, Don’t Eat It. There are times we love to buy ice cream or hot dogs at the beach. My husband especially has many found childhood memories of buying an ice cream and waffle sandwich on the Boardwalk in Altanic City. Depending on the vendor, this can be a great treat for the whole family. It is important to note though, that many of these vendors may not be mindful of food safety. If a vendor’s food preparation area does not look clean or its employees appear to be sick, it is best to opt for somewhere else to eat. It is a good idea to see if they are using gloves and changing those gloves after handling money.

Other Bacteria of Concern

It is important to note that many bacteria that make us sick not only are ingested, but can also enter our bloodstream through open wounds. This has been seen in the last few years with Vibro infections and the beach. The news lately has reported several cases of “flesh-eating bacteria” from people who have swam in the Gulf of Mexico. There was also a case linked to oysters. While Vibrio infections of this kind are rare, preventing these infections are still a good idea. Anyone can prevent Vibrio by checking for any open sores on the skin before swimming in any water source and making sure to disinfect any cuts and gashes if there is an accident right away. It is also a good practice to avoid ingesting raw seafood, as this is another way Vibrio-related infections can occur.

There you have it, some easy ways to precent foodborne illness at the beach this summer. We at UnsafeFoods wish you all a happy, and food poisoning-free, summertime!