Camping Food Safety

Brandi M. Seals

There are a few basic cardinal rules when it comes to food safety - especially when conditions are not ideal -such as while camping, hiking, boating, or even tailgating. These rules will keep you and your family on the right track and help avoid a trip to the emergency room for food poisoning.


Keep Cold Things Cold and Hot Things Hot:

Bad for you bacteria can grow on food at astonishing rates in the "hot" zone. The "hot" zone is considered to be anything above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why it is important to keep food out of that range. When you cook anything it should be above 140 degrees. If it is not going to be eaten within two hours, you will need to chill it to below 40 degrees before you pack it for the camping trip. It can always be reheated later. Cold foods will need to be chilled to at least 40 degrees.

Anything that stays within the "hot" zone for more than 2 hours should be tossed or you risk food poisoning.

Clean, Clean and Clean Some More:

You will want the food prep and cooking area to remain as clean as possible. Wash up using soap and water or if that is not readily accessible, bring along some disposable disinfectant wipes. Be sure to keep meat separate from all other ingredients when preparing as you can inadvertently cross-contaminate dishes if meat juices make its way into your potato salad.


Drink Safely:

Water from lakes or streams should never be consumed without pre treating them. You can boil water for a minute to kill the microorganisms in it, or drop in some purification tablets (usually found at any camping supply store). The purification tablets contain iodine, chlorine or halzone and can kill most bacteria, viruses, and many parasites. You will also want to filter the water before it is consumed to remove any large parasites, bacteria, or debris.

Packing the Cooler:

Packing the cooler is one of the most important steps in camping. You will only want to bring along enough food to be consumed within a short period of time. Because coolers are not the most effective at keeping foods at the proper temperatures, it is best to avoid overcrowding the space and leaving food in the cooler for days and days. I would say 2 to 3 days worth of food is all you would want to stock at one time.


The order in which items go into the cooler is also important. You will want to plan your meals in advance and then divide the ingredients up. Items to be consumed on the first day go on top. Food for the second day goes on the bottom. The only exception is meat. All meat products should be stored at the very bottom of the cooler to prevent any juices from dripping down into the food below.

Be sure to use plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Ice blocks will last longer than ice cubes - so try freezing plastic baggies of water to use in your cooler. Once the ice melts - the food is no longer at the proper temperature and must be disposed of. To keep the ice from melting, resist the urge to open the cooler more than is absolutely necessary. Place it in the shade and wrap it in a blanket to keep the contents cool. Also replace the ice as it begins to melt. I would suggest keeping sodas, juice and water bottles in a separate cooler to cut down on the number of times the one holding the food needs to be opened.


Remember, when in doubt, it is always best to toss it out.

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By Carol Saylor (Guest Post)
June 26, 20081 found this helpful

Having had to pack food for three on a sailboat for 3 days out on the water, and hoping for a gourmet experieince, I add this to the mix.
I had great results of marinated meat, (chicken breasts, country pork ribs, steak) made fresh in marinade at home and frozen in heavy duty freezer bags in 3 serving packages. I always buy in bulk and package at home, but a couple packages would be the marinated. These would also be "ice" in the cooler. (One cooler for FOOD - one cooler for DRINKS) I freeze water in plastic milk jugs This serves 2 purposes - firstly - cold for the food, and as it thawed, water to drink or make beverages from mixes (tea, coffee, kool-aid). I also make ice tea or koolaid ahead depending on who joins us on the boat for visits and freeze it in plastic jugs for the same use, because as the weekend goes on, and thirsts needed quenching, there were cold drinks to be had without having to get more ice.


I found a nifty food storage kit that had a large box and several smaller snap lid boxes meant for food storage at K-Mart. all the smaller boxes fit within the largest. I can put coldcuts, cheese, frozen dinner meat, fresh veggies for snack or salad, cream cheese, salads, oh you name it all into the smaller containers so our entire meals for 3 days fit into the smaller ones into the large one. All containers are water proof. so stashing everything n the one box into the cooler under a bag of ice was great. Ease in prep. One box in one box out. And the biggest box fit perfectly into the 30 gal cooler. I have since bought two more sets of the containters for camping because I can stash by meal - breakfast/lunch dinner. and only one box gets pulled out for prep instead of rummaging through everything.

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