Maintain Safe Food Temperature While Camping

Learn about safe food temperature, and stop worrying about storing and preparing food while camping so you can get the most enjoyment out of your trip.

  • "Campfire Cuisine," by Robin Donovan, offers readers over 100 recipes perfect for outdoor preparation and enjoyment.
    Cover Courtesy Quirk Books
  • Food poisoning is a concern while camping, where maintaining proper safe food temperature can be difficult.
    Photo By Fotolia/dbrus

Campfire Cuisine (Quirk Books, 2006) provides more than 100 recipes for delicious, healthy, and satisfying meals for the campsite or other outdoor setting. Author Robin Donovan presents you the tips and information necessary to avoid mishaps and common mistakes. In this excerpt from “Part One: Recipe for a Delicious, Gourmet Camping Trip,” learn the basics of safe food temperature, and how to prepare and store food while camping.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Campfire Cuisine

Play It Safe: Storing, Transporting, and Preparing Food While Camping

Contrary to popular belief, food poisoning is not just an excuse to play hooky from work. It is very real, and it’s certainly not something you’ll want to deal with in the wild. Proper storage, handling, and preparation of food can protect you from this unpleasant, potentially dangerous malady.

Buying and Storing Food

• When buying fresh meat, poultry, or seafood, always check the “sell by” and “use by” dates. Do not purchase or use these or other foods once these dates have passed.
• When storing meat, poultry, or seafood in a cooler, be sure to wrap the packages in multiple layers of plastic or foil to prevent leaks.
• Always refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours of purchasing (within 1 hour if the room or outside temperature is above 90°F).
• Store canned food in a cool, clean, dry place.
• Discard any cans of food that are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusted.
• If you are camping in an area where bears may be present, store food in airtight containers in bear lockers, bear canisters, or the trunk of your vehicle or suspended from a tree (at least 15 feet high, 4 feet from the tree trunk, and 100 yards from your campsite).

Pack Your Cooler the Right Way

Follow these tips to keep your food cool and safe.
• Use an appliance thermometer to be sure your cooler stays at 40°F or below (frozen foods you want to keep frozen should be stored at or below 0°F).
• Chill your cooler by filling it with ice 30 minutes before adding food.
• Chill all food and beverages before adding to the cooler.
• Freeze meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and noncarbonated beverages. If they’re already frozen, they’ll help your cooler stay cold longer.
• Bags of frozen vegetables (such as corn and peas) double as ice packs, helping to keep the cooler cold until you’re ready to defrost or cook them, helping to keep your cooler cold.
• Block ice will last longer than ice cubes or ice chunks. Make your own block ice by freezing water-filled 1-gallon or 1/2-gallon resealable freezer bags. (For easy filling, use the type of freezer bags that stand up on their own.) To minimize leakage as the ice melts, double-bag the ice blocks.
• Pack the food you will use first on top, and try to group the food by meal to avoid unnecessary opening and rearranging of the cooler.
• Keep nonperishable beverages in one cooler, perishable food and beverages in another.
• Keep the coolers well stocked with ice, and open them as little as possible.
• Keep the coolers in a shady spot or in the coolest part of your car.
• If you’re planning a long trip, split your food in two. Fill one cooler with what you need for the first half of the trip. (Plan to eat the most perishable items in the first half of the trip.) Place food you won’t need until the second half of the trip in a second cooler, pack it with ice, and seal it with duct tape. Don’t open it until it’s time to start using that food.

Safe Storage Times for Perishables

The chart below lists safe storage times for perishable foods in a cooler kept at 40°F or below. Frozen foods stored at 0°F or below will last much longer. But because it is difficult to keep foods frozen in a cooler, it’s best to use these time guidelines even if the food starts out frozen at the beginning of your trip. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure your cooler stays at 40°F or below.



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