You’ve looked forward to this camping trip all year. The tents are packed, the cooler is loaded, and you’re off to the beautiful woods, ready to enjoy hiking trails, swimming in a freshwater lake, sleeping in the fresh air, and of course, eating around the campfire. Nothing tastes as good as food cooked outdoors, either over a crackling campfire or on a great gas grill in the great wide open.
But the fun can come to a fast end with a bad case of food poisoning and an outdoor latrine. So, what are the best tips from capable campers to avoid dangerous food spoilage during camp-outs?
Expert outdoor enthusiasts tell us that our favorite campfire feasts can be served safely with careful planning, safe and sufficient storage, and proper precautions.
Planning Your Camping Cuisine
First, plan to bring along plenty of non-perishable foods in sealed storage containers. These include safe snacks, such as beef jerky, nuts, raisins, trail mix, peanut butter, energy bars, tuna packets and crackers.
You can also bring non-perishable proteins such as hard salami, canned ham, and powdered eggs. These will last for days if sealed and stored in shady or cool areas.
It’s important to keep all non-perishable foods in air-tight containers to prevent scavengers such as mice and squirrels from getting into your food supply and contaminating it.
Dry goods such as bread, crackers, oatmeal, rice, and flour tortillas can also be safely stored in sealed containers without refrigeration. Most pre-washed produce is also safe to keep in a campsite. Many campers keep fresh fruit in dampened burlap bags and then hung from a tree. The damp burlap keeps the fruit cool and fresh, and the burlap allows enough air circulation to prevent rot and mold.
Plan your meals ahead of time and try to plan for only one or two perishable foods per meal, with the rest of the menu being non-perishables. This way you won’t need to lug around several huge coolers full of perishable foods and ice.
Camp-Out Cooler Do’s and Don’ts
When camping, your cooler needs to stay around 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to function as efficiently as your refrigerator. Ice blocks work much better than ice cubes for long-term cooling when camping. They last longer and don’t end up as a bunch of water at the bottom of the cooler.
Some expert tips include the cooler pre-cool. You can start off with your cooler already cold and ready to load by filling it with ice blocks overnight the night before you leave. This makes a big difference in maintaining cold temperatures compared to placing items into a room temperature cooler and causing them to immediately lose valuable coldness.
Ziploc bags filled with water and then frozen work really well. Another tip is to keep some foods frozen and add them to the cooler so they can aid in keeping it cold. Steaks, burgers, and hotdogs can be kept frozen and added to the cooler in sealed Ziploc bags. Make sure to squeeze out extra air before you seal the Ziploc bags. Burgers and hotdogs can be added to the grill frozen and cook very well.
Layer foods with ice for the best results in long-lasting freshness.
When placing meat into Ziploc bags for freezing, only add to each bag what you will use for one meal. This way you don’t have to thaw out all of your meat at once and then only use a portion.
Don’t put food and drinks in the same cooler. Drinks should always be in a separate cooler so that the frequent opening and closing of the drinks cooler won’t cause thawing in the cooler storing your perishable foods. It’s also a great idea to keep some drinks frozen in your drinks cooler and use them as they thaw.
Keep a thermometer in the cooler to be sure it’s maintaining a cold temperature and add ice when needed. Try to plan your packing so the foods you need first are at the top of the cooler. This will keep you from having to dig through the cooler to find the items you need on the bottom. This can allow valuable cold air to escape.
Don’t store raw meats in the cooler with other foods without double bagging the meat into sealed bags to prevent contaminating other foods with meat juices.
Camping Hygiene Helps
It’s always important to maintain good hygiene practices when preparing food, but this is true more than ever when preparing food in the outdoors where you don’t have hot running water on hand.
Be sure to bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently with soap and water, ensuring you don’t wash anything near any natural water source. Dry snacks should be shaken from their bags into a bowl or plate rather than letting people reach in and eat out of the bag. Hands can pick up bacteria very easily in the forest.
Keep a Food-Safe Campsite
All food in your campsite should be stored in airtight, sealed containers. This not only keeps food fresh, it also helps to keep the scent from attracting animals. Many camping areas will specify that foods must be hung in a bag from a tree, well away from the trunk, or they will provide bear-proof boxes, poles or cables for safe and secure food storage. Food should also be stored at least 100 feet away from your sleeping tent.
Be sure to keep your campsite neat, clean, and free of food scraps, open snack bags, and exposed fruits and vegetables. This can cause spoilage in outdoor weather and attract scavenging animals.
One common camping mistake that beginners often make is to go off and enjoy a day of fishing or hiking while leaving food out on the picnic table or near the campfire. Then, they return to find that animals have scavenged through the exposed food, rendering anything left unsafe to eat.
Safe Water Storage while Camping
Water should also be stored safely while camping. There are many options for storing water, including collapsible water containers for camping. Water should be stored in cool shady places. Water containers should be food safe and BPA free.
If you follow these tips from crackerjack campers, you should be able to eat well in the woods while keeping your family and friends safe, happy, and satisfied. Nothing perks up the appetite like fresh air in the great outdoors!