When my family goes camping the menu is always of utmost importance! I think menu planning takes more time and energy than anything else as we get ready. We assign which family will be responsible for which meal and then everyone sets out to planning, shopping, and excitedly packing up for the trip. Meals are never left as simple as roasting hot dogs or slapping together peanut butter sandwiches with this group. Everyone puts on quite a production... and, generally, quite a few pounds while we are all together!
Last month we headed for the hills again and halfway through the trip a couple of things happened that made me start thinking that maybe we should have spent a little less time worrying about what we were going to eat and a little more time and energy making sure the food was safe! Camping is tricky because we like to enjoy lots of good food, but without normal refrigeration and cooking appliances it is easy to lose track of our normal food safety practices and end up in a very sick, and potentially dangerous, situation.
When it comes to camping food safety, the big challenge is keeping perishable food at 40-degrees, or lower. Bacteria can grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees and there are no tell-tale signs of dangerous bacterial growth, such as taste, smell or discoloration. Bacteria can be growing like mad and most of us would have no idea.
Most of us are familiar with food spoilage, which is easy to spot (or smell!) when our food gets old, but spoilage is caused by a completely different type of bacteria than the kind that causes food poisoning. Spoilage is usually not a problem for most campers, because our camping trips are relatively short.
The most important tool in fighting food bacteria is a good cooler. Different coolers perform differently so it is important to test yours! Donít just assume that they all do the same job because it is, unfortunately, just not true. A great way to test the temp is to use a little home weather station that is meant to measure air temperature. There are other thermometers that can handle to job so just find a solution that works for you. There is no reason this needs to be difficult or expensive.
What you want to know is how much ice it takes to get the interior temp below 40 degrees and how long your ice can keep the temperature there. Two bags of ice today is not going to do the job that the same two bags will do tomorrow. And you need to know how long you can count on that cooler keeping your food safe!
Besides keeping food cool, it is equally as important to make sure you are cooking it hot enough as well. If you donít already have one in your camping cookware it is worth the investment to get a reliable, but inexpensive meat thermometer so that you can be sure that you are getting meats cooked at high enough temperatures to kill unwanted bacteria. This chart should offer some guideline. It may be wise to print out a guide like this and keep it with your camping cookware so that you have it when you are roughing it Ė and by roughing it I mean camping in an area where you canít access the internet!
So now our foods are cool when they are supposed to be cool and hot when they are supposed to be hot, so there is one last major obstacle to food safety while camping Ė cleanliness! When I was growing up if anyone told us not to get dirty my dad would quickly chime in, ďand donít have any fun!Ē Needless to say, we had some dirt-loving, family fun camping trips as kids.
But whether you are spending the day digging in the dirt, fishing, wading in the river, or hiking trails mealtime cleanliness is nothing to take lightly! Make sure hands are well cleaned with antibacterial soap before you touch food to prepare it or eat it. It may seem like an ordeal to get all those little hands washed before every meal, but it will be well worth it if you can avoid even just one sick tummy as a result.
Besides proper hand cleaning, it is vital that the food prep tools and area be kept clean. Things like Clorox or Lysol wipes make this a much more simple task. Make sure that when you pack your camping gear you have plenty of soap, antibacterial wipes, and clean towels to keep everything bacteria free while you enjoy your trip. And just like at home, donít leave the dishes sitting dirty any longer than necessary Ė this just gives bacteria a chance to party.
I speak from recent experience when I say that camping is no fun at all when you or your child is up all night sick. I donít know whether it was food contamination or just bad timing of a stomach bug, but my poor little boys and I would go to great lengths to make sure that none of us ever has a sick tummy in the woods again! Here is wishing you and yours lots of fun, great food, and unforgettable memories when you hit the road and head to the wilderness!
* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *