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Chantal LaCosta loves a good picnic.

Dining al fresco by a lake while sprawled on her grandmother's yellow and blue patchwork quilt ranks as one of her favourite activities. But even after countless meals outdoors, Ms. LaCosta still encounters the occasional batch of fruit that has gone mushy or a snack that doesn't taste right.

As temperatures soar, so does the risk of food going bad in the summer heat.

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"I never really thought about making sure it's safe," says 24-year-old Ms. LaCosta.

Avoid the tummy ache from the dip that went sour in the sun by following a few simple steps to keep food fresh.

The most important investment for serious picnickers is a good cooler or several ice packs.

"You should put everything on ice. The lower the temperature, the less the bacterial growth," says Helene Charlebois, an Ottawa-based dietitian and nutritionist.

Avoid storing fresh or prepared foods between 4 C and 40 C, the danger zone for bacterial growth.

Proteins in particular should be kept as cool as possible before and during your outing - storing foods at the bottom of the fridge before packing will keep them colder for longer.

"Always try to keep food less than four hours at room temperature, that's the max," says Ms. Charlebois.

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When packing for your picnic, load up on the fresh stuff.

"For those power-picnic foods, fruits and veggies are the best," Ms. Charlebois suggests.

These crunchy munchies are packed with vitamins and minerals, and, she adds, they carry the lowest risk in terms of food contamination outdoors.

Preparing a healthy picnic can also be less work, since whole fruit and cheeses are better options than bite-sized morsels.

"The more you cut up food, the greater the chance it's exposed to air and bacteria," Ms. Charlebois says.

Just be sure to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before slicing into them on site.

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When packing condiments, hold the mayo and ditch the homemade dip. Anything with a lot of dairy or raw egg is likely to go bad fast. Stick with commercial dips and dressings that have been pasteurized.

Pack lots of leafy greens, but keep your dressing in a separate container. This way, salads will stay crisp and bacteria will be kept to a minimum.

For worry-free nibbles, dry snack foods like crackers, nuts and raisins are picnic perfect; they are easy to pack and have a low bacteria risk, says Ms. Charlebois.

Don't be afraid to add a touch of panache to your picnic, though. Experiment with prosciutto, pickles or olives, says Takashi Ito, picnic expert and executive chef at the Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria. If kept in the shade, cured products will retain their distinctive flavour .

But leave the seafood at home and forgo the chocolate - Mr. Ito says cold cuts and dry sweets are better.

And even if you're a sun-lover, seek out the shade, if not for yourself, then at least for your meal.

"Don't leave food lying around in the sun. And when you're done, put the food away," says Nick Foglia, food service manager at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Drinking lots of water and slathering on sunscreen as the day progresses is also important, Mr. Foglia says.

Finally, don't forget to enjoy the outdoor dining experience.

"It's the summer, you get to be outside. It's relaxing," Ms. LaCosta says.

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