Camping is a great way to spend time with family and friends while taking in the great outdoors. As you set up your tent and pots and pans, don’t neglect your food safety routine. The food safety principles and procedures you follow when at home don’t change because you are outdoors.
One of the general rules of food safety is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. While packing your coolers with food and beverages, make sure to include plenty of ice or gel packs to keep the food at a safe temperature.
If the warmer temperature draws you outdoors for a brisk hike through the mountains or even your local park, be sure to stay cool with water on the hiking trail. Likewise, every hiker understands the importance of fueling their bodies while climbing through rugged terrain, but keep in mind that food, if not properly handled, could make you sick.
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Safe Food and Cooking While Camping
If you are camping for more than a day, meal planning becomes more important. Canned goods are safe and shelf-stable. These items can be stored in your pack without a cold source – such as: peanut butter in plastic jars, concentrated juice boxes, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned beef and dried fruits and nuts.
If your meals need cooking, having the necessary equipment is a must. Make sure you to pack any equipment you will need (e.g., pans, fire starter, and if allowed, a portable stove & gas). Also, be sure to pack a food thermometer.
The Danger Zone – Serving Hot and Cold Items While Camping
Food Safety Danger Zone
Bacteria multiply rapidly at warm temperatures, and food can become unsafe if held in the “Danger Zone” (40 °F – 140 °F) for more than two hours. If the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F, food can become dangerous after only one hour.
The only way to determine if your meat or poultry is safe to eat is to use a food thermometer. Burgers are always popular while camping, but ground beef may be contaminated Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7 (a particularly dangerous strain of bacteria). Using of a food thermometer to check if your patties are cooked to a minimum temperature of 160 °F is critical. If the meal plan includes another popular item, hot dogs, make sure they are steaming hot.
Keeping perishables cool is essential to avoid food becoming unsafe. That’s why it is necessary to pack one or two coolers for your camping trip–one for drinks and snacks and another one for other perishable food. Remember also to pack your coolers with ice or frozen gel packs.
Last but not least, don’t forget to pack some disposable wipes or biodegradable soap for your hands and quick cleanups.
Before setting out for your hike, be sure to pack non-perishables like trail mix, energy bars, and granola bars.
Chilled foods like chicken and tuna salad or sandwiches can be transported safely in a backpack with a cold source. Frozen gel packs and water bottles make a great cold source. The water will thaw as you hike, providing refreshing drinks while keeping your meal cold at the same time.
Four Steps of Food Safety
As always, campers and hikers should follow the four steps to food safety when preparing dishes outdoors.
Clean: On the camping trip, make sure to pack clean paper towels, water, and soap for cleaning surfaces and your hands. Disposable moist towelettes also work well.
Separate: When taking food off of the grill, use a clean plate. Don’t put cooked food or foods eaten raw on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate them.
Cook: Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of burgers, steaks, chicken and foods containing meat, poultry and egg dishes.
- Hamburgers, sausages and other ground meats should reach 160°F (71°C).
- All poultry should reach a minimum temperature of 165°F (74°C).
- Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef should be cooked to 145°F (63°C) as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, and allowed to rest for three minutes before eating.
- Fish should be cooked to 145°F (63°C).
- Cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.
Chill: Place leftovers in shallow containers and store them in a cooler immediately. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of 40°F – 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. The range is often called the “Danger Zone”. Discard food left in the Danger Zone for more than two hours. When the outside temperature is 90°F or above this time reduces to just one hour. Remember, if the food is not handled correctly, foodborne illness can be an unwelcome visitor.