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5 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Food Safe While Camping

June 24, 2014
People eating food while camping

Summertime is finally here with the perfect weather to pack a tent, sleeping bag and cooler to go conquer the great outdoors. Georgia boasts an amazing 41 parks that offer more than 2,700 campsites, including tent-only areas, RV pull-thru sites, primitive camping and group camping areas.

Camping offers many opportunities for outdoor fun with family and friends, but—be warned—these warm weather events also present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. As food heats up in summer temperatures, bacteria can multiply rapidly, making it crucial to store and cook food properly while enjoying this popular summer activity.

Have the Right Cooler

One necessity to carry along while camping will be an appropriately sized cooler. Packing a cooler efficiently—and using it in the correct ways—is crucial to keeping food safe and everyone healthy. But keep in mind that every time you open a cooler, precious cool air escapes. Consider having two coolers, one with food for meals and another for beverages and snack. This will keep mealtime food at a more stable temperature if the cooler isn’t being opened throughout the day.

Prepare Food Properly

Here are some more quick tips:

  • Pre-chill all food that will be stored in the cooler and freeze bottles of water and non-carbonated drinks (like boxed fruit juices), which will keep foods cold as they thaw.
  • You can even freeze water in zip-top bags in place of cold packs or ice. However, ice is generally recommended as it will fill the cooler completely and keeps food uniformly cold. 
  • Pack as much of your food as possible into water-tight bags, so that items do not get soggy as ice melts.
  • Pack coolers in reverse order, with food you plan to use first on top—the less you have to dig around in the cooler, the better!
  • Before leaving the house, throw in a fridge thermometer and keep it centrally located within the cooler so you can monitor and ensure foods are kept at or below 41oF.

Use Extra Caution for Raw Food

Handling raw meat, poultry and seafood can be challenging in a kitchen with a refrigerator and sink, but in a campsite cooking area, these challenges are multiplied. To keep it simple, remember the same core principles apply:

  • Keep meats and prepared foods (such as potato salad, sliced vegetables, etc.) cold until use.
  • Cook to the recommended temperature (bring your thermometer!)
  • Avoid cross-contamination.
  • However, if you put raw meats and poultry together, you must cook both to the highest minimum temperature. For example, to cook poultry and steaks together, cook both to 165oF for at least 15 seconds, since that is the cooking temperature for poultry and is higher than that of red meat.
  • Never leave food out for a prolonged period of time. If food is sitting in the “danger zone” (above 41oF and below 135oF), it needs to be used within four hours—and thrown out after that. Use ice-baths, campfires and other methods to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot within that timeframe.

Pack Alternative Food for Longer Trips

If you're camping for more than a few days without access to ice, the food situation gets a little more complicated. You can still bring cold foods for the first day, but you must pack shelf-stable items for the days to come.

  • A wide selection of Georgia Grown fruits and vegetables are available during summer months, which have great nutritional value and require little to no cooking at all—great camping food. Just remember to keep them whole until preparing them to eat—and rinse with cool water first.
  • Another great outdoor option to consider is nuts, such as Georgia Grown peanuts and pecans, which are high in protein, lightweight and easy to pack.
  • Other alternatives may be dried food options like PB2 (the peanut butter powder), beef jerky, granola and dried fruits.

Most Important: Water

While camping, it is not a good idea to depend on fresh water sources from a lake or stream for drinking, no matter how clean it appears. Bring bottled or tap water for drinking. The surest way to make water safe is to boil it. To kill the microorganisms present in water, bring water to a rolling boil and continue boiling for 1 minute.

Food safety should never be forgotten no matter where you are. Keep these guidelines handy while on your next camping adventure to make sure you (and everyone else) has a memorable trip and stays free from food-borne illness. And from all of us at the Georgia Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division, have a safe and fun summer!

Find more tips from the FDA and USDA. Follow the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division on Twitter and Instagram (@GDAFoodSafety) for tips and updates.

About the Author

Angela Edge is an intern for the Georgia Department of Agriculture in the Food Safety Division. She attends the University of Georgia and is majoring in Food Science. She enjoys educating people on how to keep their food safe and free from food-borne illnesses.