How can I keep my food safe on camping trips?



Though summer is quickly passing, there are still plenty of opportunities to camp. Being outdoors for extended periods of time can provide the challenge of maintaining proper temperatures of camp foods. Keeping perishable food cold during both travel time and camping requires planning. Consider these ideas.

Store eggs, meat, poultry, fish and milk at temperatures under or close to 40 F. Micro-organisms begin to grow in food as it warms. The warmer the food becomes, the faster the microbial growth. During extended campouts, it is especially important to keep food as cold as possible.

Freeze large containers of ice a day or two before your trip. Large blocks of ice take longer to melt than the same amount of ice in smaller containers. Ice can be made in clean, half gallon milk cartons, plastic buckets or partially filled zip-lock plastic bags. Be sure to leave expansion room when filling containers. Plastic soda pop bottles can also be used if they are only two-thirds full. Individual servings of juice in cartons can be frozen to help keep foods cool, then used later.

Be cautious of loose ice. Ice left loose in the ice chest cools food rapidly, but can easily become contaminated from meat juices or hands reaching into the cooler. Ice can be safely used for drinks if it is kept in a container that is not in direct contact with food.

Prepare as much food as you can before the trip. Preparing food at home will help alleviate problems with cleanup and cross-contamination at the camping site. For example, hamburger patties can be shaped at home and placed in plastic bags. If patties will be used the first day, they can be refrigerated. If they won't be used for two to three days, freeze them and let them thaw in the ice chest. This will provide additional cooling.

Keep the ice chest as cool as possible. The back seat of a car is often cooler than the trunk. Extra insulation can be added to the ice chest by wrapping it in a towel or blanket. Keep the ice chest shaded at the camp site.

If ice from the cooler has melted and food doesn't feel cold, throw it out. Whole fresh produce, such as potatoes, onions, apples and oranges are safe without cooling. Canned foods, dried foods, peanut butter and jelly are always safe. Pickles, mustard, mayonnaise and catsup have a high enough acid content that it is not essential that they be kept cold throughout the trip. On longer camping trips, plan on using nonperishable foods toward the end of the trip in case the ice is gone.

Avoid cross contamination. Place an extra plastic bag around meat and poultry items to catch any juices that may drip. If meat juices drip into the ice, don't use the ice in drinks. Keep hands and utensils clean. If clean water isn't available, bag dirty dishes and utensils and wash them when you get home. Paper plates can also be used to simplify cleanup.

Posted on 6 Aug 2004

Charlotte Brennand
Food Safety Specialist

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