Most of the things people should know to prevent food poisoning generally apply in the home as well as at any outdoor cookout. Here are some further things to consider for the next outing:
1. Foot purchases
Get perishable items just before checking out. If frozen foods are purchased, choose those stored below the frost or “load line” of the display case. Avoid frozen products that have thawed, that seem partially thawed, or that appear to have been refrozen. Never buy or keep canned products if the container is swollen or badly dented. Do not buy or use eggs that are cracked or dirty unless they are to be thoroughly cooked.
2. Preparation and cooking at home
- Wash hands thoroughly before touching any food and after handling raw meat, poultry, eggs or other foods with a high potential for contamination. Thoroughly clean knives, cutting boards, and other equipment after each use to prevent cross-contamination of food. People with an infectious disease, an infected cut, or other skin infection should not handle the food.
- If cold cut sandwiches are part of the picnic menu, keep all the ingredients separate (including condiments) and prepare them at the picnic site. If they must be prepared at home, use frozen bread slices and well-chilled cold cuts or sandwich spreads, and wrap each sandwich in a plastic wrapper. Because it’s often difficult to keep hot foods hot while on the way to a picnic site, precooked foods should be prepared early enough to be adequately refrigerated, then reheated at the picnic or campsite. If cooked food, such as chicken, is to be served cold, it should be kept refrigerated until its internal temperature is under 45 degrees and kept cool until it’s ready to be eaten.
- Use shallow containers; with deeper ones, the outside edges may cool properly but the center may remain warm, encouraging bacterial growth. Cold foods prepared at home and brought to an outing also need to be kept refrigerated. Particular attention should be given to such contamination-prone foods as potato, egg and tuna salads. Again, use shallow containers to speed cooling.
3. Packing and transporting food
Packing a cooler requires some forethought and meal planning, especially for overnight camping trips.
A cardinal rule to remember is that cold settles and heat rises. That means putting the ice or coolant on top and the foods to be kept coldest on the bottom. Put another way, the more perishable foods go on the bottom and the less perishable ones on top. Some campers like to put their ice or freezer cans in the middle of a cooler with less perishable items eggs, cheese, vegetables above and foods to be kept colder below.
The foods that go into a cooler also can help keep things cool. If you’re going to be away from home very long, as on a camping trip, it’s best to freeze as many foods and drinks as possible and to chill all other products that shouldn’t be frozen. Wait until the last possible moment to transfer items from the home refrigerator to the cooler.
Pack with some idea as to the order in which things will be eaten. Obviously, the more perishable items should be consumed first. Some camping experts suggest placing all frozen foods in a cluster in the center of a cooler and putting other perishables to be used last around them. The least perishable items would go on top, and any other spaces can be filled with wrapped raw vegetables and canned or chilled bottled drinks.
Almost all items in a cooler should be separately packed in plastic bags or wrap. Fresh milk and cream should be used up in the first few meals, and fresh vegetables should be eaten before they start to wilt and lose their nutitional value. Bacon, smoked meats, salted butter and margarine generally will keep for a week if kept cool. Most canned goods, unless the container states otherwise, will keep indefinitely.
Unintentional contamination of food can occur quite easily if meat, poultry or fish are part of the outdoor menu. Because Campylobacter and Salmonella are often found on such foods (see accompanying article), they should be kept frozen or well-cooled in a cooler or refrigerator until they are needed, to keep these bacteria from muliplying to dangerous numbers. While stored in the refrigerator or cooler, these foods should be well-wrapped so that drippings do not contaminate other foods.
Avoid putting coolers and picnic baskets in a hot trunk. Keep them in the shade at the cooking or campsite. Foods cooled with ice should be wrapped in protective coverings. It’s not advisable to place foods directly on ice that’s not of drinking water quality.
4. Preparing and serving the meal
Keep preparation time to a minimum. Cook and serve hot foods immediately; bring cooled products out only when it’s time to eat.
On a camping trip, cooked and uncooked meat, poultry and fish should be transported frozen and cooked while still icy cold after being thawed. Ground meat is more perishable than solid pieces of meat, so it should be one of the first items cooked on a trip. It some foods are still partly forzen before use, cooking time should be extended so that internal temperatures of meats and poultry are high enough to kill any bacteria present. Food safety experts repeatedly stress cooking chicken and hamburger well. It’s not a good idea to plan to finish cooking chicken at the campsite: Ic chicken is cooked before leaving home, it should be thoroughly cooked there.
If there are many people to serve, place perishable foods in serving dishes on beds of ice; fill serving dishes with only small amounts, keeping the rest in a cooler until more is needed. Don’t cut up vegetables or any other food with the same knife or on the smae cutting board that was used to prepare raw meat until the unensil and board have been thoroughly cleaned. If sauces and gravies are included, don’t let them stand and cool; otherwise they’ll need to be reheated to the boiling point again.
Use a clean table, preferably with a tablecloth, and keep all food and utensils covered until used. Flies and other insects, as well as household pets, are Salmonella carriers. Refrigerate all leftovers as quickly as possible after everyone has eaten. If there is no ice or coolant, it’s best just to throw leftovers away.
Campers must be particularly wary of using water for drinking that comes from polluted streams and lakes near campgrounds. Giardiasis is a form of protozoan present in stream water; it can cause serious diarrhea that can last for days. Either bring bottled water or water purification tablets or boil water from nearby sources thoroughly before drinking. Campers need hot water to clean dishes, pans and other utensils anyhow.
If wild game is on the menu, cook it thoroughly to kill any disease-bearing organisms. Hares, rabbits and squirrels, for example, should be cooked as completely as pork. As with any raw meat, hands and knives and other utensils should be cleaned after handling game in preparation for cooking to prevent cross-contamination of other foods. Fresh fish should be gutted, kept cool, and cooked as soon as possible after they’re caught. (Leave the fresh fish on a stringer in the water or in a cooler until they’re ready for gutting.)
5. Foraging for shellfish
Foraging for shellfish clams, oysters, and crabs is fun, but remember, they are susceptible to pollution. Be sure they are not taken from prohibited waters. Choose only those whose shells are closed, and eat only those that are alive until the moment cooked.
Although many cases of food poisoning are mild and the effects, as discomforting as they may be, wear off in a few days, food poisoning is not something to be taken lightly. Outbreaks can be and often are life-threatening. Infants, elderly people, and the chronically ill are particularly susceptible to food-borne disease. Those who bring babies along on camping trips should take special precautions in preparing and storing infant formula. Although it may be more difficult to transport, canned liquid formula is safer than powdered formula if the water mixed with the powder is of questionable quality.