Safely storing and handling food when you’re outdoors is key to keeping everybody safe. Not only are proper food handling techniques key to staying healthy, but the last thing you want during a trip is to realize half of your food supply has gone bad and you don’t have enough to get you through the entire trip.
Here are some important guidelines to pack food right before you go.
Make Sure Food Stays Cool Enough
The best thing you can do to prevent spoilage of food kept in a cooler for camping is to keep enough ice on it to maintain ideal temperatures—usually at or below 40 degrees Farenheit, explains Kyle Kamp, a registered dietitian and owner of Valley-to-Peak Nutrition. “It’s incredibly important to keep food meant to be cold (particularly uncooked meats, eggs, etc.) at appropriate temperatures,” Kamp says. “The further outside that 40-degree mark cold foods get, the greater the risk for foodborne illness.”
To keep foods cooler for longer, Kamp recommends keeping the cooler in the shadiest spot possible (usually the north side of a vehicle, large tree, or rock).
If You’re Bringing Meats with You, Do It Right
Bringing meat along on a backpacking or camping trip is possible, as long as the conditions are right. “What I would suggest is making sure it’s frozen before setting out on the trail, and planning to cook it on the first night of the trip,” says Kamp. “For trips longer than the average overnighter, it’d be better to stick to the meat sources everyone loves: tuna, salmon, and chicken foil pouches.”
Cooked foods (especially meats, dairy, and eggs) aren’t safer to bring along unless they’re well refrigerated, so pick your options wisely.
Stock Up on Good Hiking Foods
“Most backpacking foods are engineered around the idea that a person won’t have the ability to keep food cold,” says Kamp, so relying on those for longer trips makes the most sense.
For example, any combination of beans, grains, nuts, and seeds can be a great source of protein. “Most of these foods come with little-to-no water content and can easily be rehydrated at camp,” says Kamp. “Individually, these foods won’t provide the amino acids a person needs, but the combination provides all the necessary amino acids in a person’s diet. This can be as simple as rice and beans, refried beans on a tortilla, or a humble PB&J.”
Another great option is texturized vegetable protein (TVP). “These crumbles provide a great source of protein, are lightweight, and can be a great addition to any meal eaten in the backcountry,” says Kamp. “Best of all, no cooler required!”
If you’re feeling ambitious, Kamp says you could try dehydrating your own foods to add variety and good nutrition to backpacking and camping meals.
Keep the Risk of Foodborne Illness at Bay
Symptoms of a foodborne illness can appear in the hours after a food has been eaten, but can also be delayed for weeks, so Kamp points out it’s important to keep things clean and avoid contamination when handling food. While this is always important, it becomes even more so when you’re on the road and things aren’t properly refrigerated.
For example, it is still important in the backcountry to wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards, and to wash fruits and vegetables before cutting into them. “Also, keep things separate: avoid cross-contamination, such as avoid using the same utensils and cutting boards to cut chicken, fish, and beef,” Kamp says.