Camping trips provide a fun, off-grid getaway when you want to escape the grind of everyday life. If you don’t have your food sorted out before you go, though, it can become frustrating quickly. Not only do you need enough food to last you until you can go shopping again, but you also need to take precautions to keep it cold (and safe) until you eat it.
Food safety requires cooking foods properly and keeping perishables cold enough to avoid spoilage and dangerous bacteria. Fortunately, you can accomplish both with a bit of planning and know-how.
Read on to learn the essentials of keeping food safe to eat on your next camping trip.
Food Safety During a Camping Trip
If you’re like most people, you have everything you need at home to keep your food safe before you eat it. You can freeze meats and other perishable foods until the day you are ready to prepare them and refrigerate everything else you need to keep cold. You cook your foods on a stovetop or in a standard or microwave oven to ensure you keep yourself and your family safe from harmful bacteria.
But you may not have all these conveniences available during a camping trip. That means you have to take extra care to ensure your food is safe to eat.
Risks of Eating Spoiled Food
Eating spoiled food can do much more than leave a bad taste in your mouth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contaminated food can lead to food poisoning symptoms that commonly include the following:
- Stomach pains and cramps
Food poisoning can wreak havoc on even the best-planned camping trip, making it miserable for you and anyone else with you. Beyond this, eating spoiled or contaminated food can also lead to longer-term health problems:
- Kidney damage
- Hemolytic Uretic Syndrome
- Brain and nerve damage
When you ignore food safety guidelines, you put yourself and your family at unnecessary risk. Adequately planning for food storage and preparation is critical to keeping you healthy during and after your camping trip.
Avoiding Foodborne Illness
The good news? You can take steps to avoid the illnesses that contaminated foods cause. On a camping trip, this means planning for proper cooking, cold storage, and your dietary needs.
Undercooked and improperly stored foods can pass harmful bacteria and germs when consumed. Proper care and handling are critical to keeping you healthy on your trip.
Cook Food Properly
Undercooking meat is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness when camping. If you have chicken, pork, or beef that you start cooking from raw, you’ll find that it takes much longer to cook all the way through if you are using a campfire or a small grill. A propane camping stove or grill can help reach higher and more consistent temperatures, but you still need to adjust the cooking times to ensure that meat is cooked through.
Before eating chicken, check to confirm there is no pink in the meat. Pork and beef are harder to judge by sight—bringing a compact digital meat thermometer is never a bad idea.
One workaround that can help is to cook your meats ahead of time. Rather than chancing undercooked ribs or chicken on the campsite, prepare them ahead of time and then store them cold. From there, use your camping stove or grill to heat them. You can add barbecue sauce or your favorite seasonings on-site to get that fresh off-the-grill flavor without the fresh on-the-campsite bacterial invasion.
Wash Your Hands Regularly
Camping can be dirty work. When out in nature, you need to worry about more than just dirt. You’re vulnerable to bacteria, shared germs, and microscopic dangers. You should wash your hands regularly to avoid picking up and passing on potential health hazards during your trip. Proper handwashing means using warm water and soap and washing for at least 30 seconds each time. If warm water is unavailable, alcohol-based disinfectant gels are also effective at killing bacteria and viruses.
How often do you need to wash your hands? You should certainly wash your hands at the beginning and end of every day. You should also wash before and after food preparation and before and after you eat. When you’re out in the wild all day, you could just as easily be either the source or the victim of food contamination.
Preparing for the Trip
Food safety shouldn’t be an afterthought during your camping trip. Preparation is key to taking care of yourself and everyone else on the trip. The more you prep your food ahead of time, the better you can keep everyone safe.
Prepping Ingredients Ahead of Time
Before you leave for a camping trip, you should ensure all the ingredients for your meals are prepared and separated. Items you need to keep cold should remain separate from those that do not—such as canned goods. If there are cooked items that you can freeze to keep them cool for longer, do so.
Preparing your ingredients and food items ahead of the trip gives you the best chance to ensure proper storage and cooling. Instead of lighting a campfire and hoping for the best, adequate prep gets you thinking about the safest, most efficient ways to feed everyone safely.
Pack the Cooler Tight
You want your cooler to hold foods at cold temperatures for as long as possible. To accomplish this, you should put in a layer of ice and let the cooler get cold before putting food items inside. Once the cooler has had time to cool off, you can start packing.
In a cooler, air space is your enemy. You should pack the cooler as tightly as possible. If you freeze water bottles, you’ll get colder water when they melt, and they’re perfect items to wedge between other cold items in your cooler. Reusable ice packs can also come in handy. Having too much space in the cooler allows warm air to circulate, which means more chance of food spoiling on your camping trip.
Insulating and Storing in the Shade
Once you’ve packed your cooler, you still need to protect it from extreme heat. Leaving your cooler out in the hot sun leaves you vulnerable to all the foodborne illnesses you are trying to prevent by using a cooler in the first place.
Ideally, you should find a place in the shade to keep your cooler. The air temperature is the same in the sun or the shade, but the shade protects your cooler from additional heat caused by the sun’s radiation. Letting the sun shine directly onto your cooler impairs its effectiveness at keeping your food cool and safe.
In addition to storing it in the shade, insulating your cooler can help protect your food for longer. An interior lining of foam or plastic helps protect the contents from warm air for longer and comes standard in many coolers.
On long camping trips or off-grid adventures in a well-equipped RV, you may have access to electric coolers and refrigerators. You’ll need a power source to run a camping fridge, but many convenient options allow you to go off the grid for longer than ever before.
Utilizing Coolers and Ice Packs
Your ice won’t last long on an extended camping trip, no matter how cleverly you’ve packed the food. Keeping food in increasingly warm water will soon do more harm than good for your food safety efforts.
Ice packs provide a sensible alternative because you can re-freeze and reuse them throughout your trip. You just need a camping refrigerator that gets cold enough to freeze them again and the power to run it. That can keep your food safe for as long as you need it.
Portable Power Station for Camping
Camping and RV refrigerators only work if you have a power supply. Portable power stations allow you to store enough power to keep an electric cooler or camping refrigerator running for the duration of your trip.
Options like the EcoFlow RIVER 2 series portable power stations provide ample backup power for most camping trips but in a compact size. At less than 20 pounds, even the most powerful RIVER 2 Pro is light enough that it won’t significantly weigh down your camping gear.
You’ll need to make sure you can recharge the portable power station throughout your trip to ensure you don’t run out of power before you go through your food. As well as having the option to recharge using AC power and a car adapter, you can add portable solar panels to recharge with clean, renewable solar energy. Reduce your carbon footprint and have ready access to electricity that you can generate virtually anywhere.
Dry ice can serve as a powerful cooling option. If you keep it wrapped and avoid touching it, you can lay dry ice across the top of your cooler to keep its contents cold.
Be careful, though; anything the dry ice touches directly will freeze. In addition, your cooler needs ventilation to keep the carbon dioxide it releases from contaminating the food. Finally, you must keep a cooler with dry ice away from people and pets while traveling.
Alternative Methods for Keeping Food Cold
If you don’t have a quality cooler or camping fridge, you can work with what nature provides you in the short term. These solutions won’t work for too long, but they can help you keep your food safe for a little while until you are ready to prepare and eat it.
Using a Buried Container in the Ground
A straightforward option is to use a container buried in the ground. If you put ice or ice packs in with the food, burying it will keep it out of the warmer air and the sunlight. For a short camping trip, this can work in a pinch.
DIY Coolers With Snow and Ice Blocks or Burlap Sacks
If you have access to snow or ice when you are camping, you can use the elements to keep your food safe and cold. While this isn’t practical for summer camping, a winter trip away might provide everything you need to keep your food cool until mealtime.
Natural Bodies of Water
If you are camping next to a lake, river, or stream, the water may be cold enough to help preserve your perishable food. Make sure whatever you try to keep cold in running water is adequately secured in a waterproof container. Otherwise, you’ll probably find that your food has drifted away when you go to retrieve it.
A camping trip offers fresh air, fun, and relaxation away from your daily grind. To get the most out of your journey, you must prepare for food safety—from refrigeration and storage to cooking and serving. EcoFlow portable power stations and portable solar panels give you the option to plug in wherever you are and keep your foods cold and safe until you’re ready to eat.