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Camping and Food Safety – Cooking Outdoors

It’s just not camping without outdoor cooking on an open fire. With limited space, equipment, light, refrigeration, and sanitation, Camping and Food Safety can be a bit complicated. Just because you’re roughing it out in the wilderness, doesn’t mean you have to throw food safety out the window.

There’s nothing more embarrassing and inconvenient than having you entire campsite with the runs because of what you fed them, except maybe sending them all to the hospital for something that could have easily been prevented.

At Risk

Older adults, young children, pregnant woman and people with low immune systems are at a higher risk from being affected from eating foods contaminated by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. 1-6 Americans contract a food born illness and over 3,000 Americans die a year from improper handling food.

Most symptoms and early signs include but are not limited to nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. These four simple steps recommended by the CDC will help keep you loved one’s safe from Montezumas Revenge.

1. Clean 2. Separate 3. Cook 4.Chill

All which become more difficult and take a little craftiness while camping.

Keeping Clean

If you don’t have running water at you site or you’r out in the boondocks, keeping clean can be a bit challenging but still manageable. Bring plenty of you own water, not just for drinking, but for washing. Have a primitive campsite at a park? collect water from the public restroom. Always wash you hands before and after handling food.

Wash your utensils and equipment as soon as possible after use. Food on your utensils dry up quickly making them harder to clean latter. The longer they are dirty the more opportunity for bacteria to multiply and the more likely to infect you with their next use.

Have a bucket or large bowl for cleaning, cleaning you least dirty first working you way to the most soiled. Then rinse off with clean running water or trickling water from a water container. Let everything air dry before putting away.

Sanitizer is not a substitute for washing you hands, it is a supplement to it, but it may be all you have. Rinse or scrap off as much debris as possible, then sanitize.

You Got to Keep Them Separated.

Put all you food, beverage and ice in a cooler and go camping, what can go wrong? Cross contamination that’s what. Cross contamination is when one food mixes with another food that needs to be cooked to a different temperature.

Like cutting up you tomatoes onions and lettuce, then using the same knife or cutting board for you raw meat. Big NO NO! If you only have one knife or cutting board process you veggies first, then move on to the foods that need to be cooked longer. Same goes for cleaning. Clean you dirtiest items last.

Ideally you need at least two coolers. One for you beverages and ready to eat foods such as vegetables and fruits. This cooler will also contain you clean ice for drinking. The other cooler will be for you meats, poultry, pork, or fish.

Put all you meats in containers or zip lock bags. Make sure that the containers you choose to store you meats are of high quality. Once the ice starts melting in the cooler, the water gets in everything causing cross contamination.

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When cooking at night outside sufficient light to see can be hard to come by. I’m usually grilling with a head lamp on to help me see, but even then sometimes its hard to tell if my food is done. I know some people love well done steak, but for me over cooking my food ruins my dinner. Under cooking my food gets me sick.

Knowing you food temperatures and bringing a thermometer with you can save a lot of trouble when cooking under the stars. Thermometers are small, light and easy to use. Just stick the thermometer in the thickest part of you food and read the number. Getting a Digital Thermometer might be easiest to read, and still fairly inexpensive.

165* all poultry and believe it or not all left over food.

160* ground beef and pork

145* whole cut steaks of beef, pork, veal, lamb and fish

This is why keeping you foods separated is so important. If you mix you chicken which needs to be cooked to 165* with you steaks or fish that only needs to be cooked to 145* you can get salmonella and other food born illnesses. Under cooked chicken or cross contamination from chicken is the number one culprit of food contamination.


Chill refers to refrigeration before and after you food is cooked. Food needs to be refrigerated 40* and below. If you cooler is stocked with ice this should be no problem, even if you ice starts melting. When you ice starts to melt the temperature should still be about 32* in you cooler, as long as there is as much ice as water in it.

The more the ice melts the more the temperature rises. Again, having a thermometer while camping is a good idea. Make sure you keep stocking you cooler with ice. A lot of campsites will even deliver ice to you site upon request.

Food should not be left under refrigerated for more than two hours. After two hours you must either refrigerate, or re-cook up to 165* because now they are considered left overs.

Leaving food on the grill at a temperature of 165* will extend the time till foods need to be refrigerated, but will also continue to cook your food.

When in doubt, throw it out!

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