Camping food safety

Amanda O'Brien
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“It’s the 24th of May and we like to get away, up in the woods or going out the bay.”
The May long weekend is here, which not only marks an extra day off work, but the start of a new year for camping and enjoying picnics, barbecues and camp fire roasts.

Eating outside can be fun, but don’t forget it comes with an increased risk for food-borne illness.  

When outdoors, it’s impossible to control the weather, but you can control the temperature of your food. If you are able to use a cooler when transporting foods this weekend and the upcoming summer months, this is probably one of the best and easiest ways to be safer about your food.

If possible, transport the cooler in the passenger area of the car, where it will be cooler. Obviously you’ll want to keep cold foods cold, but instead of trying to keep hot foods hot, consider chilling the normally hot foods and then reheating them once you’ve reached your destination.

In your cooler, foods should be at 4 C or below (i.e. refrigerator temps).

Instead of ice, try using freezer ice packs, as they won’t drip and become a potential source of cross contamination.

Emptied and cleaned milk containers frozen with ice can also work well to keep foods cold. If you are short on cooler space, consider using frozen juice packs or water bottles as a double duty source of refreshment and way to keep foods cold.

In addition to watching the temperature of cooler foods, you might want to consider using two coolers. One for foods and the other for drinks. The reason I suggest this is because it’s quite likely you’ll be opening the drink cooler more frequently, letting in warm air and causing the ice to melt faster.

Regardless of how many coolers you use, ensure all foods are separated, with none touching ice packs or ice directly (another potential cross contamination source), and if you are bringing along meats or poultry, ensure these are packed in a tight container at the bottom of the food cooler (if any juices were to escape, the likelihood of it reaching other foods would be reduced).

When your camping trip is over, discard all perishable foods if there is no ice left in the cooler, gel-pack is no longer frozen, or if the food in the cooler have been above the temperature danger zone of

4 C for two hours or longer. Don’t forget to clean and sanitize the cooler before and after each time you use it, too.

If you are backpacking or camping without electricity for more than one day, you’ll need to be prepared. You can rely on the cooler and cold foods for the first day, but after this you’ll want to have a good supply of shelf stable foods on hand.

Healthy choices include whole non-cut fruits and vegetables, individual fruit cups, peanut butter, canned fish, bread, crackers, dry pasta and rice, oatmeal, 100 per cent juice boxes, dried fruits and nuts, powdered milk, canned soups and sauces, and other dehydrated foods. Having a menu plan is essential to eliminate carrying around extra food, ensuring healthy choices, reducing leftovers and being food safe. Taking foods in the smallest quantity available is a good idea, also.

If you are going to be cooking meats or poultry, it is a good idea to bring along a thermometer. They take up very little room, and could be a life saver when it comes to preventing food-borne illness, as it’s impossible to tell if food is safely cooked just by referring to the colour or odour.

Hamburgers, a popular campfire food, can be a potential source of deadly E. Coli 0157:H7 bacteria. An infection with this, or other bacteria for that matter, can cut a camping trip short with a day confined to the outhouse or worse yet, hospital.

Obviously there is more to food safety than coolers and thermometers, like good hygiene and hand washing, proper thawing and cooling, and storage of foods to name a few.

Give a little extra thought this year to how you pack your cooler and using a thermometer. As simple as they both are, they are frequently where campers go astray in being food safe.

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