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Summer Food Safety: Keep Food Safe While Camping, Hiking and More

Summer cookouts and snacks on day trips go hand-in-hand with the enjoyment of our short Canadian summers. But food can quickly become contaminated with bacteria which causes foodborne illness. The hotter it is, the more exponential the chances are that your hot dogs and hamburgers are ticking disease bombs instead of tasty treats. It is possible to enjoy summer treats safely - it just takes some prep work and extra consideration.

Food Safety on Overnight Camping & Hiking Trips

The heat you’re trying to enjoy on a summer trip is a big food safety risk factor. Meat and dairy don’t do well in the heat, as it allows more bacteria which cause foodborne illnesses to multiply. Vegetables aren’t immune either, as they are traditionally stored with problematic meat and dairy in coolers, and once foodborne bacteria is allowed to grow, they will thrive on anything. Eschew snacks like yogurt and cheese sticks in favour of non-perishable snacks such as fruit and packaged granola bars.

1. Separate Coolers for Meat/Dairy and Fruit/Veg

If you have the room, consider separate coolers for meat and dairy products and fruits and vegetables. This will keep your veggies and fruits safe if you have an incident with your meat & dairy cooler. Make sure your ice is replaced daily, and if you are using an electric cooler that plugs into a power source, keep some ice in it anyway in case the power goes out. Pack meat in watertight containers or Ziploc bags to keep it from getting wet when the ice melts and contaminating other meats and dairy products in the cooler.

2. Don’t Stock up For Your Entire Trip on Day 1

From a food safety perspective, meat left in a cooler for five days should probably be tossed out, no matter how well cooled it was. Only pack meat and dairy products for the first couple of days, and restock throughout your trip. Eat fresh meat and dairy within a couple of days of purchase, and frozen within about three days (after it has been kept well cooled).

3. Wash Everything Thoroughly 

Wash all produce and food just like you would at home. Keep one pan for dishes and another strictly for food and hand washing, so you're not washing your hands or food in a dirty bin. Do not wash poultry, as this can contaminate the meat and the wash pan (same rule applies at home, by the way!).

4. Discard Leftovers

Throw leftovers in your campfire to keep animals from being attracted to your site. If you are saving packaging to recycle, give it a quick rinse after your meal dishes have been done to further discourage rascally masked food thieves (we dare not speak their name).

5. Pack a Food Thermometer for Meats

Yes, this is a pain to do, but your safety is worth the extra step. Here are guidelines for meats and their “safely cooked” temperatures:

  • Burgers, sausages and ground meats: 160°F (71°C)
  • Poultry pieces (legs, breasts etc): 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the meat
  • Whole cuts, lamb, veal, beef (including steaks): 145°F (63°C) in the thickest part of the meat
  • Pork (ham, pork loin, ribs):160°F (71°C)
  • Fish: 158°F (70°C)

Purchase a thermometer that is easy to use with a clear readout.

6. Throw out everything at the end of your trip

Throw out anything you don’t eat at the end of your trip. It’s tempting to keep the leftovers, but the risk of foodborne illness is too high to consider it. If you don’t want to waste it, offer it to your campsite neighbours and let them know they should eat it right away.

Food Safety For Day Trips

Days at the beach, hikes through the woods - enjoying Canada’s outdoors usually involves a picnic lunch and snacks. With day trips, it is easier to avoid food safety pitfalls. Avoid anything that requires refrigeration unless you are preparing and eating it within two hours - past two hours, bacteria that causes foodborne illness can start creeping into your food. If you want to have an elaborate picnic lunch and don’t want to worry about timing, pack a cooler full of food with lots of ice, taking into account that extreme heat will make that ice melt faster inside your cooler.

If you are going on a hike and don’t want to lug a cooler along with you, pack foods that require chilling (boiled eggs, tuna sandwiches, etc.) in a separate pocket of your backpack with a cooling mechanism such as a frozen gel pack. Ice in a plastic bag will work, but leaks can make your food soggy and ice will melt faster than the liquid in a gel pack.

It’s entirely possible to enjoy yourself without taking too many extra precautions that will minimize your enjoyment of your vacation. Going vegan for your trip would give you the safest experience, but many of us are far too attached to our hot dogs over the fire to go that far.

For more information about the online and in-class food safety training offered by the experts at Food Safety Market, visit the enroll page here.