Food Safety Tips for Camping Season
May long weekend brings many of us outside, spending more time doing things like hiking, camping and fishing. Avoid being stuck on the toilet all weekend (or worse!) by keeping food safety in mind when planning outdoor meals and snacks. Using the strategies below can help you avoid getting sick from bacteria that may grow in food.
It is important to clean hands using hand sanitizer or soap and hot water before and after handling food, and when switching from one food to another. Wash counters, cookware and utensils before and after use, as well as after touching raw meat or fish. Bring a spray bottle with 5 mL of bleach and 750 mL of water to sanitize gear that touches uncooked meat. Rinse with clean water afterwards. Wooden cutting boards are harder disinfect; choose plastic when dealing with raw meat. Also, use washable cloths for dishes instead of sponges. Once all the delicious food is ready, wash your hands again before eating, especially when eating with your hands.
Separate foods that may contaminate others. For example, store ready-to-eat foods (like salads or buns) above raw meat and make sure they do not touch. You may even choose to double wrap raw meats in plastic bags or have a separate cooler for them altogether. Use one cutting board for uncooked meat only, and bring another one for fresh produce.
When grilling meat, relying on the color is not as safe as checking the internal temperature to know when it is ready. Food thermometers can help you make sure meats are fully cooked. Plus, they can even help prevent overcooking by giving you peace of mind that your entree is not undercooked.
Germs on foods grow fastest in the temperature danger zone, which is between 5-60°C. Foods that need to be in the refrigerator need to be kept below 5°C and should not be in the danger zone for over 2 hours. This means storing food quickly after buying it and not leaving it outside or in a hot vehicle. Pack food in a cooler with ice packs and double-check the temperature if there is not much ice.
Choose to thaw food in 1 of 3 ways: by using a microwave (then fully cooking right away), by letting it sit in a fridge or cooler, or by placing it in cold water and changing the water every 30 min. Do not defrost at room temperature; bacteria can grow on the surface of item while the inside is still thawing. Chill leftovers right after cooking. Any foods left out for over 4 hours should be thrown out.
When in doubt, throw it out
Ready-to-eat items with long shelf lives, like hot dogs and deli meats, are risky if not kept cold or cooked to steaming hot before they are eaten. Pay special attention to food poisoning signs from these high-risk foods, which can include a fever, sore stomach, feeling sick, throwing up or diarrhea. It is best to get rid of any food items with strange smells, mould or insects; there is no need to taste-test first! That said, harmful bacteria or their by-products that cause food poisoning cannot always be seen, smelled or tasted. Throw out items at high risk of contamination, like cracked or broken eggs, items past their expiry dates, or mayonnaise, cream or custard that were not kept cold. It is also a good idea to throw out cans that are rusty, cracked, bulging, leaking or dented at the seam. Wash the outside of the can if the top is dirty but is otherwise fine.
Lowering your risk
The risk of foodborne illness is higher when food is used outside at picnics, barbecues and camping trips in warmer weather. For your next outing, think about if there are any food safety changes that can be made to keep you feeling your best. This is extra important for seniors, pregnant women or people with poor immune systems, who could benefit by being even more cautious.
Michelle Stevens, RD