Six tips to keep your food safe during picnics and camping trips

Camping and picnics require planning to keep your food safe.

Follow these simple steps to improve your camping experience and prevent food contamination on your trip.
Follow these simple steps to improve your camping experience and prevent food contamination on your trip.

Camping and picnics provide unique challenges in keeping your food safe. Keeping foods cold both during travel and camping requires planning.

Michigan State University Extension offers the following food safety tips so that you have a most enjoyable outing with your family and friends.

  1. Eggs, meat, poultry, fish and milk and precooked foods need to be store at temperatures under or close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Pathogens, which are microorganisms that can make you sick begin to grow quickly in food as it warms up. During extended camp trips, it is especially difficult to keep the food as cold as necessary.
  2. Plan ahead and freeze large containers of ice to help keep your food as cold as possible. Large blocks of ice will take longer to melt than the same amount of ice in smaller containers. It’s easy to make ice by putting water into clean half-gallon milk cartons, plastic buckets that have had food in them, like ice cream buckets or partially filled zip-lock plastic bags. Plastic pop bottles can also be used but only fill them two-third of the way full of water. The extra room in the containers allows for the water to expand as it freezes. Individual servings of juice in cartons can be frozen and used later.
  3. Ice that is loose in the ice chest cools food rapidly, but can easily become contaminated from meat juices or hands reaching into the cooler. Keep ice for drinks in a container that is not in contact with food.
  4. Prepare perishable food at home. This will result in fewer problems with clean up and cross-contamination at the picnic grounds or camping site. Put meat and poultry in an extra plastic bag. For example, hamburger patties can be shaped at home and put in a plastic bag. If they are to be used that day, refrigerate. If they will be used 2-3 days later, freeze and let thaw in the ice chest.
  5. Keep the ice chest as cool as possible. The back seat of a vehicle can be cooler than the trunk of the car during travel. Extra insulation can be added to the ice chest by wrapping it in a beach towel or blanket. Keep the ice chest in the shade at the picnic or campsite.
  6. Always pack a food thermometer to check the temperature of both the cold food, which should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and to check the temperature of your cooked foods. Whole fresh produce such as potatoes, onions, apples and oranges are safe with out cooking (but you still want to wash your produce before using). Canned foods, dried foods, peanut butter and jelly are always safe. Pickles, mustard, mayonnaise and catsup have a high enough acid content that it is not essential they be kept cold throughout the trip. On longer camping trips, plan on using nonperishable food towards the end of the trip just in case your ice is gone.

By following the tips above you will know you have done your best to keep your family and friends safe from a nasty foodborne illness that would surely ruin a fun picnic or camping trip.

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