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Prairie Fare: Keep Food Safe on Camping Trips

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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You will need to do some advance preparation to be sure your perishable food remains cold and safe.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“We haven’t camped out this year,” my daughter commented one day.

“Yes, we better get out the tent one of these days before it gets too cool in the fall,” I noted.

Admittedly, we aren’t exactly outdoor adventurers in our house. To us, camping out consists of putting up our tent in the backyard.

In our younger years, my husband and I did some camping. We have the gear, so I guess we need to expand our camping horizons beyond our backyard.

However, we still can see the stars from our backyard, and we have access to great snacks in the refrigerator. Indoor plumbing is another major benefit. We aren’t exactly roughing it.

We even have some “wild animals” to keep us company. We tried putting up a temporary fence around the tent to keep them out last year, but that didn’t work. Our three energetic dachshunds jumped over the fence and scratched on the tent flap until we let them in.

If you are planning a camping trip, deciding on a menu is fun but can be a food safety challenge. You will need to do some advance preparation to be sure your perishable food remains cold and safe.

  • First, think about the accommodations at your campsite. Is there a safe supply of running water at the site or do you need to bring a supply of safe water? Despite what you might see in old movies, food safety experts do not recommend drinking water from a stream. That practice could be hazardous to your health.
  • Bring biodegradable soap for hand washing and other cleanup. Disposable wipes or hand sanitizer can be used for cleaning your hands when water is not available to wash your hands before snack breaks on nature walks.
  • Bring a cooler filled with ice, especially if you plan to bring meat or other perishable foods on your trip. Foam coolers are a lightweight option but not as durable as plastic ones. Remember that ice cubes melt much faster than blocks of ice. Try making large blocks of ice by freezing water in plastic buckets or even zip-top plastic bags. Even plastic soda pop bottles can be filled partially and allowed to freeze to help keep foods cold.
  • Keep ready-to-eat foods and beverages, such as fruits, vegetables and canned beverages, in separate coolers away from raw foods, such as meat. Meat juices could drip on the foods or your beverage containers and be transferred into your mouth.
  • Do some advance preparation at home. You may want to shape your burgers at home and freeze them in zip-top bags. In a day or two, they will thaw in an ice-filled cooler. You can rinse and cut up vegetables for snacks in advance, too.
  • Pack smart. Use your cooking utensils for multiple uses. Dutch ovens are heavy but versatile for cooking a wide range of foods. Nest your cooking pots and cooking utensils inside of each other to save space.
  • Consider bringing foods that do not require constant refrigeration such as canned foods and other shelf-stable foods. Pack some canned beans and meat, dried meats, peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts, dried soup mixes, fruit drinks, powdered milk, cereal, crackers, bread and other foods you find in the packaged-food aisles at the grocery store.
  • If you build a campfire, be sure to follow the policies of the campground for building and extinguishing the fire. Never leave a campfire unattended, and supervise children at all times around a campfire.

Here’s a tasty meal that can be made in your backyard or at a campsite. For more information about food safety, check out NDSU Extension’s online publications at

Campfire Dinner

1 pound lean ground beef

4 c. assorted raw vegetables (potato, carrot, onion and squash)

Nonstick cooking spray

Heavy-duty foil

Cut four pieces of heavy-duty foil about 18 inches long and lay flat on a table. Spray each piece of foil with nonstick spray. Shape four hamburger patties and place a patty on each piece of foil. Wash hands after handling raw meat. Wash a variety of vegetables you like and cut into thin slices. Place the vegetables on top of the ground beef patties. Dribble a couple of tablespoons of water over the top of the food. Fold aluminum foil using a drugstore wrap to seal the food in the foil. Learn more about sealing food at

Put the packet on coals in the fire pit, but not in the flames. Cook on coals for about 20 minutes, turning every couple of minutes. Be careful not to puncture the packet when turning so the liquid does not run out. Use a meat thermometer to make certain the hamburger is cooked thoroughly. Cook until the internal temperature reaches at least 160 F. If using a dial thermometer, place thermometer into the side of the patty at least 2 1/4 inches. For variety, you can use 1 pound of ring sausage, chicken or fish divided into four portions. Cook chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165 F. Fish should flake with a fork or reach an internal temperature of 145 F.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 4.5 grams (g) of fat, 24 g of protein, 19 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 95 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Aug. 9, 2012

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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