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Tips on Food Safety for Camping: Choosing, Packing and Storing Foods

written by: Vasanth • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 7/9/2011

Discover the issues surrounding food safety during camping adventures. Find out what types of foods to bring and how to properly store and cook them.

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    Camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but if you don't make the necessary preparations, the experience may not be fun at all, and it could even be dangerous. Campsites are not equipped with all the facilities you might be accustomed to, so it is important to bring essential camping equipment, including a tent, extra clothing, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, water, and food.

    Food preparation is very important in the wild. It starts with packing and storing food safely. This prevents the food from spoiling and reduces the chance that wildlife will be attracted by the food. It is also vital to properly prepare a meal to avoid getting sick from uncooked products.

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    How to Pack Foods for Camping

    The first step in food safety for camping is to properly pack the foods you are taking to the campsite. Since most foods can be refrigerated and thawed later, it is recommended to transport chilled foods. Either refrigerate or freeze the food overnight and pack it on the day of the trip. Place the foods next to frozen drink boxes or use frozen gel packs to keep the food cold. This is ideal if you are carrying the food in a backpack. If you are bringing much more food that can be stored in a backpack, it is recommended to place all the food in a cooler.

    Foam coolers are lightweight and retain cold well, but they are easily damaged. Plastic or fiberglass coolers are much more durable and maintain cold temperatures for a long period of time. Fill the cooler with ice and place foods in the reverse order that you will consume them. The exception is raw foods like meat and fish. These should be placed at the bottom so that the juices don't drip onto other foods.

    Raw foods should be double wrapped and placed in plastic bags before being placed into a cooler. Canned foods are great for camping and plastic bottles are ideal for storing drinks. The following foods don't need refrigeration or additional packaging:

    • Dehydrated foods
    • Dried meats like beef jerky
    • Peanut butter in a plastic jar
    • Juice boxes
    • Canned tuna
    • Dried fruits and nuts
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    Essentials for Cooking Outdoors

    In case your campsite doesn't allow campfires, it is important to bring a source of heat with you so you can cook outdoors. A portable stove is ideal for camping. Most contain a burner fueled by isobutane-propane or some other combustible fuel, and they are designed to maintain a flame or radiate heat even when a strong wind is blowing.

    Along with the stove, bring other cooking gear including small pots and utensils. Aluminum foil wrap is useful as well. It is important to have a food thermometer when you are cooking outdoors. Digital food thermometers measure the temperature at the tip of the probe, while dial food thermometers average the temperature over the length of the probe.

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    Prepare Meals Safely

    Food safety for camping also involves properly cooking foods. For dried foods or soups, boil water over the portable stove and pour it into the cup or pouch that contains the food. Follow the directions on the food label for cook times.

    Use a food thermometer to indicate when meats and poultry are done. For thin meats, like hamburger patties, consider using a digital food thermometer. If you are using a dial thermometer, make sure it is inserted into 2 inches or 2.5 inches of food. Insert it sideways if necessary. Meats should be cooked to a temperature of 160°F to eliminate any contamination from the E.coli bacteria. After handling raw meats, use soap or hand sanitizers to prevent spreading germs to other areas. Also, turn off the portable stove, or put out any camp fires that were started.

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    Maintain a Clean Drinking Water Supply

    Bring plenty of bottled water with you and avoid any contamination of your drinking supply. When you need to replenish your supply, it is recommended to fill up at the camp station. If this isn't possible, boil water obtained from a stream or lake. After boiling, it is also recommended to filter the water through a purifier. Filters should have a pore size less than 1 micron to be safe. Another option is to use purification tablets, which are designed to disinfect water.

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    Clean the Campsite

    If there are any leftovers, it is best to burn them rather than keep them in a trash bag. Other items should be placed in a plastic bag including paper plates, bottles, and cans. Use biodegradable soaps to wash dishes and utensils.

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    References

    1. "Food Safety While Hiking, Camping & Boating." USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets

    2. "Food Safety While Boating, Camping and Hiking." Minnesota Department of Health. http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety