10 Foods You Should Never, Ever Pack for a Picnic

Updated: Mar. 31, 2022

Watermelons and honeydew and cantaloupe, oh my! Watch out because that sweet, sugary slice of melon may not be as healthy as you think.


Yep, melons

Melons signal warmth and fun. Once they appear in the produce aisle, you know those hot months—and all the season’s healthy fruit and veggies—are there for the taking. But, your happy-go-lucky summer fun could be stopped in its tracks if you don’t educated yourself on how to properly handle those delicious watery slices.

Like many other fruits and vegetables, melons can carry bacteria like E.coli, listeria, and salmonella. According to Michigan State University, these germs usually gather on the rind of the melon (which protects the inside from contamination). However, if you don’t wash your watermelons before use, those nasty germs might end up on the flesh of the melon when you slice it up. Make sure to wash the rinds before cutting to avoid foodborne illnesses. If you thought washing your melons would prevent all bacteria, think again! Keeping melon slices in the sweltering sun can cause the growth of germs and bacteria. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, always use a cooler or ice if transporting melons and sliced melon outside. Try packing your sliced melon alongside these frozen desserts to keep your fruit extra cold and sweet at the BBQ.

So don’t put that watermelon from the BBQ back in the fridge. Even melon slices that have been sitting indoors in room temperature for two hours run the risk of culturing nasty bacteria. Compost or dispose of that extra summer fruit.



Fresh fish plus heat is the perfect combination for bacteria growth. It is like a sign welcoming those pesty buggers into that freshly packed fish. Children and the elderly, who have weakened immune systems, have to be even more careful around picnic food involving fish. To be safe, pack your filet of choice in a cold bag and make sure to prepare and eat it as soon as possible. Want to make the best choice when buying for your cookout? Here’s the best fish to eat (and which to avoid).



Cheese and crackers are one of the simplest and tastiest picnic snacks. But, make sure you consume those cheddar blocks before the two-hour mark, according to Cheese and Education Training department of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, or you risk some truly stinky cheese (and not in a good way). Packing a small quantity of cheese is better than packing a whole block and watching it spoil under the sun. Check out these lighter options for cheese lovers that keep your snack habit healthy.


Potato salad

Most of the time potato salad is more mayonnaise than actual potato. As an occasional treat, this might be fine. What isn’t is letting your potato salad swelter in the heat. Even if you do keep it cool on the way to the picnic, if it sits out for more than an hour, bacteria can take hold. Lower your risk by going with a German-style potato salad, which relies on vinegar for its dressing. You’ll be less likely to encounter bacteria and the salad will be healthier.



This favorite light summer protein may be slowly poisoning your body with antibiotics, pesticides, and bacteria. According to ABC news, imported shrimp can even be full of foreign junk like rodent hair. They recommend buying American-caught wild shrimp, or do a Google search for the best shrimp companies before you make your purchase. Or give one of these protein alternatives at your next picnic.


Fried chicken

This breaded meat is a favorite for summer picnics, but don’t leave those drumsticks out in the sun for too long. Make sure you prepare it well—check out these tips for keeping food safe during the warmth months. And don’t let it sit too long outdoors. If your chicken gets over 90 degrees in the sun, you run the risk of severe food poisoning.


Deli meat

Lunch meat can be a good picnic choice, but keep it cool. Like melons, the warmer deli meat gets, the higher your risk of infection from foodborne illness. Or maybe you should skip it altogether: Chemicals used in these meats like nitrates can raise cancer risk. To stay safe and healthy, look for organic, chemical-free meat and keep it in a cooler at your next picnic.


Fruit salad

Sure, if your fruit mix includes melons you might be at risk. But the other fruit at your picnic carries the same risk. That colorful salad with blueberries, strawberries, apples, and grapes can provide a great home for E.coli, salmonella, and listeria. According to the news site LiveScience, you should wash all fruits thoroughly before use in order to avoid contaminating your entire bowl of fruit salad.



There’s that dreaded mayo-based dressing again, which spoils in the sun. But coleslaw can also be loaded with sugar, according to USDA: One cup of coleslaw can deliver more than 23 grams of sugar. That is more than you’d get from an ice cream sandwich! Instead of buying sugar-heavy coleslaw at the store, pack some veggies and dip, or a salad with and oil-and-vinegar dressing. Better yet, make your own healthy version of coleslaw—or consider these other healthy options.



Want an easy way to attract pesky ants and insects? Spilling some of that soda pop on your picnic blanket could lead to an unwelcome party of ants. According to the pest management company Orkin, tiny sugar ants are everywhere. They’ll be on any spills or unattended cups and cans before you know it, and soon your picnic will be overrun. Avoid ant domination by drinking water, iced tea, or flavored sparkling water. Plus, you really should try to avoid sweetened drinks at all costs.