NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Food Safety in the Great Outdoors

Food Safety in the Great Outdoors


Outdoor activities are popular with Americans nationwide. The fresh air and exercise revives the spirit and the mind. Hiking, camping, and boating are good activities for active people and families.  In many cases, these activities last all day and involve preparing at least one meal. If the food is not handled correctly, foodborne illness can be an unwelcome souvenir.

While enjoying the great outdoors we are a little more vulnerable to food contamination or poisoning when cooking because we do not have the same kind of hygiene set up available as we do at home. Most food poisoning is caused by bacteria, which is in the soil, air, water, and the foods we bring camping with us. In small quantities these bacteria are harmless, but when conditions are right the bacteria can rapidly increase in number to a point where they can cause illness.

Using and cooking meat or fish in the great outdoors has great potential for a delicious meal and also great potential for food safety problems. The risks include cross-contamination, eating under cooked meat and meats or fish spoiling faster as they are without a good cold source.

Here's a few tips when taking and using meats on an outdoor trip

- Chopping board: Use a separate chop board for cutting meat and vegetables to prevent cross-contamination.

    - Cutlery: Clean all cutlery used after cutting meat especially if using the same knife to cut veggies after.

- Catching/eating fish: If you catch fish to eat, it will help to put it straight into a cooler as soon as arriving back at camp. Many people will keep them alive in the right kind of container until they're ready to be cooked

- Freeze at home: If you are planning a weekend camp out or plan to use meat the first couple of days out on an extended trip you can freeze meat at home then store it inside a cooler just before leaving home. A good cooler should keep food fresh for two to three days if it has plenty of ice inside.

- Check for doneness.  A common mistake many of us make when cooking outdoors on a barbecue or camp fire is under cooking or burning the outer part of the meat while the center remains almost raw. The most accurate method of testing if meat is cooked is using a thermometer. Meat thermometers come in all sizes and shapes and can be easily packed in with your other supplies.

- Keep meat separate from other foods.  Keep meats inside packaging that's strong or a durable container and keep them well away from other foods which will prevent cross-contamination if meat juices leak out.  The best defense against an outbreak of pathogenic bacteria in camping food is a good ice chest with a lot of ice.

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