Learn about safe food temperature, and stop worrying about storing and preparing food while camping.
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.
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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.
• 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).
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.
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.
Eggs (fresh, raw, in shell): 3 weeks
Eggs (hard-boiled): 1 week
Liquid pasteurized egg substitutes (opened): 3 days
Liquid pasteurized egg substitutes (unopened): 10 days
Mayonnaise: 2 months
Steaks, chops, and roasts (raw): 3 to 5 days
Ground meat (raw beef, turkey, veal, pork, or lamb): 1 to 2 days
Chicken (uncooked; whole or in pieces): 1 to 2 days
Fish and seafood (raw): 1 to 2 days
Homemade egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad: 3 to 5 days
Hot dogs (opened package): 1 week
Hot dogs (unopened package): 2 weeks
Cold cuts (opened package): 3 to 5 days
Cold cuts (unopened package): 2 weeks
Bacon: 1 week
Sausage (raw; made from poultry, pork, or beef): 1 to 2 days
Sausage (smoked): 1 week
Note: Storage times recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
• Always wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap before and after handling food.
• Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other food.
• Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in the cooler until you are ready to cook them.
• Always thaw frozen meat, poultry, or seafood thoroughly before cooking to ensure that it cooks evenly.
• Frozen foods should be thawed in a cooler at 40°F or below. Be sure the meat, poultry, or seafood you are thawing is well wrapped to avoid dripping juices onto other food.
• To thaw food more quickly, place it in a sealed, leak-proof plastic bag and submerge the bag in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the food is completely thawed. Cook immediately.
• Never use the same dishes or utensils for both raw and cooked meat, poultry, or seafood.
• After cutting raw meat, wash your hands and the cutting board, knife, and work surfaces with hot, soapy water.
• Always keep marinating meat in a cooler with a temperature of 40°F or below.
If you’re unsure how to tell when meat is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat to test for the proper temperature:
Ground meat (beef, veal, lamb, and pork): 160°F (at least)
Ground poultry: 165°F
Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks, chops, or roasts): 145°F
Pork (chops or roasts): 160°F
Dark poultry meat: 180°F
Poultry breast meat: 170°F
Note: Temperatures recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Reprinted with permission from Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors by Robin Donovan and published by Quirk Books, 2006. Buy this book from our store: Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors