Food safety: Keeping the crap out of camping
Posted: May 21st, 2008 - 12:00am
Memorial Day signifies the unofficial kickoff for outdoor activities like camping. Camping can either be a flurry of fun and adventure, or a miserable few days of getting sick in the bushes and being dehydrated. Every summer, thousands of people set out on these camping adventures, and every summer, many become stricken with foodborne illnesses or a parasitic infection. Some of the most common culprits include norovirus, E. coli O157:H7, Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia duodenalis.
Such illnesses are not limited to the occasional outdoor excursion; there are many recorded outbreaks at children’s summer camps. In 2007 norovirus struck down dozens of children and staff members in Three Rivers, MI at a local summer camp. Such outbreaks are not new; in 1994 E. coli O157:H7 infected multiple people at a summer camp in Virginia. Since children are more susceptible to these illnesses than adults, it’s especially important that when camping with children care is taken to prevent infection.
The most frequent sources of these bugs are improperly cooked meat, cross contamination and contaminated water. Basic camping food safety is similar to kitchen food safety.
It’s important to keep meat in the cooler below 40°F. To maintain a low temperature, store the food in a large cooler, in the shade and away from the campfire. Be sure to load up with plenty of ice. Avoid opening the large cooler by storing drinks in a smaller cooler. Make sure meat is packaged properly by putting it in separate, sealable storage bags, and then putting meat in plastic sacks. This avoids contaminating other food products.
When it's time to cook meat, try to use disposable utensils to handle the raw meat. If metal utensils are used, sterilize them in the fire when done with the cooking. Don’t use utensils that have touched raw meat on other food items. After handling raw meat, wash hands with water to remove any debris. To avoid using drinkable water, wash them off in a lake or river. Dry hands with a paper towel, and follow with a thorough application of hand sanitizer.
Just like in the kitchen, make sure a tip sensitive digital thermometer is on hand to monitor the temperature of the meat. The proper cooking temperatures are:
160°F for ground beef and pork;
145°F for whole cuts of beef;
165°F for poultry;
145°F for fish
For longer camping trips, water supply can become an issue. Never drink untreated water; even the cleanest looking streams can contain harmful parasites. There are a couple of options for treating water: boiling and filtration. Bringing a metal cup along to boil water in is the easiest and most effective method. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and let it boil for at least one minute. If you’re in the mountains or higher elevations, it’s best to boil for several minutes. Higher altitudes lower the boiling point of water.
If boiling is not an option, then a filter will suffice. Make sure to purchase a filter with a pore size of 1 micron absolute or smaller. This method works best in combination with water tablets. Water tablets also help to remove some sediment. The tablets may leave a slight aftertaste, so bringing orange juice crystals or a powdered drink along may help to stifle it.
These safety measures could save a camper days of torment, and probably save the trip all together. Vomiting and diarrhea can ruin a short camping trip, and be life threatening on longer outings.