Keeping Food Fresh When Camping

Camping provides unique challenges in maintaining food safety and the more elaborate your meal plans, the more challenges it presents.

Perishable Food

Keeping perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy produce and pre-cooked food cold during both travelling time and camping time requires careful planning. All the foods mentioned need to be stored at temperatures no more than 5ºC. Micro-organisms begin to grow in food as it warms up. The warmer the food, the faster the microbial growth. During extended camping trips, the need to make provisions for keeping food sufficiently cold becomes even greater.

If you plan on transporting ice or buying it en route, try to buy the ice in as large a block as is available as then it will take longer to thaw. You can make your own ice and, if you’re going by car, transport it in purpose built coolers, plastic buckets or zip-lock bags.

Using the Ice

Ice that is loose in the ice chest or cooler can become quickly contaminated from meat juices so it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after each visit you make to the cooler or you could end up with food poisoning. You should use a separate cooler for ice that is going to be used for cooling drinks.

Food Preparation Before You Travel

Preparation of perishable food done at home before you travel will help reduce cross-contamination and aid cleaning up at the camp site. For example, things like beefburgers and bacon can be frozen before you travel which will reduce the effort in keeping them cool and they can be left to thaw out in the ice box or cooler if you’re going to use them after 2 or 3 days. If they’re going to be used the same day, simply refrigerate. Always remember, however, to ensure that any food you freeze has been thoroughly defrosted before cooking.

Keeping the Ice Cool as You Travel

Many people fail to realise that the boot of a car is often far warmer than the back seat so you should consider stowing the ice on the back seat of your car as opposed to the boot, if you have enough space. Extra insulation can be added to the cooler by wrapping it in a beach towel or blanket. Once you’re at the site, make sure you keep the cooler in the shade.

Other Types of Food

Whole fresh foods such as apples, oranges, potatoes and onions are safe without cooling and canned foods and dried foods are always safe so you should try to rely on those kinds of foods as much as possible, especially on longer trips. Even if you plan on eating more fresh meat, fish and dairy produce, it’s always advisable to pack some canned and dried foods in addition in case the ice runs out or your fresh food produce has to be thrown away, to ensure that you don’t run out of food.

Things like pickled onions, tomato ketchup, jam etc. have a high enough acid content that it’s not necessary to keep these kinds of items cold throughout the trip.

Preventing Illness

It’s important to protect yourself and your family from illness caused by contaminated food. To reduce the risk of cross contamination, put an extra bag around raw or frozen meat or poultry items to catch any drips from the meat. Don’t use ice in drinks where meat juices have spilt onto the ice and preferably keep the ice for drinks in a separate cooler. Always wash your hands after handling any frozen or raw meat (or its juices) before you eat or drink anything else and, even though it might be a chore, educate your children in the dangers of cross contaminated food and the hygiene precautions they should take. Remember, kids and especially the younger ones have a habit of putting sticky fingers in their mouth and they could end up with a severe bout of food poisoning if they don’t follow the correct procedures.

It’s important to always keep cooking utensils clean. Even if you have to resort to using water from a river or lake, you should always boil it first as it could be contaminated by dead animals or fish no matter how clean and pure it appears on the surface.

The general rule with regard to food that has to be kept chilled on a trip, however, is – if the ice has melted and the food no longer feels cold, throw it away and use canned or dried food as a substitute. It might be useful to take a thermometer used specifically to measure food temperature as an added precaution.

Simply, don’t take chances when it comes to food, no matter how hungry you might feel, as a dose of food poisoning can be dangerous at worst and, at best, will spoil your camping experience.

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