When camping, it can be fun to enjoy the warm weather and great views by cooking and eating outside. Cooking your meals over a bonfire is one of the great joys of camping. However, it’s important to stay safe when handling food, as foodborne bacteria prefer hot weather as well. Roughing it outdoors shouldn’t mean throwing all caution to the wind; food safety is just as important in the great outdoors as in your kitchen. To stay safe when cooking, here are a few tips:
A safer option to cooking or serving all hot or cold food is to incorporate non-perishables into your menu. Plan meals that include peanut butter in plastic jars, concentrated juice boxes, canned chicken, beef or tuna, or dried fruit mixed with nuts. Non-perishable foods such as trail-mix and granola bars are also great options for bringing on hikes.
Canned goods are safe and shelf-stable, lasting for a long time without going bad. When using canned foods, be sure to store them in a cool, dry place and don’t use cans that are rusted, dented, or swollen.
Keeping food at its preferred temperature
If you’re cooking and eating food that is perishable, it’s important not to keep it in the danger zone (40℉ to 140℉) for too long, or bacteria will grow rapidly and cause illness. Make sure you have the proper equipment to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. Besides the obvious equipment, such as portable stoves, make sure you have a food thermometer handy to determine whether your meat or poultry has reached a safe internal temperature. Ground beef may harbor Salmonella or E. coli, and only a thermometer can verify that patties are cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees F. In addition, hot dogs should remain steaming hot. When serving hot food, make sure it is insulated before serving so it doesn’t cool off too much before eating it.
On the flip side, keep cold perishables cold to stop contamination in its tracks. Toxic bacteria can multiply quickly within two hours, and within one hour on sweltering days over 90℉. Pack at least two insulated coolers for your camping trip: one for drinks and snacks, and one for perishable food. Ice or frozen gel packs are a good idea, too. When serving cold foods like desserts or fruit, it can be helpful to keep them over an ice-filled container. Another tip is to pack coolers in reverse order, with food you plan to use first on top. That way you’ll avoid rummaging around to the point of disarray.
Because water is so important when camping, both for drinking and cleaning, you should make sure that the water you’re drinking is safe. Don’t rely on a lake or stream for your drinking water, no matter how clean it appears. If you find water from a natural source, it needs to be purified, either by boiling it or filtering and treating it. Water should be brought to a rolling boil for 1 minute before drinking. If you plan on filtering and disinfecting water, you should purchase the proper equipment and know how to use it before leaving.