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Food Safety in the Great Outdoors

Now that summer’s finally arrived more of us are pitching tents and enjoying the great outdoors. Those who enjoy their home comforts but want to spend the night under canvas might favour the ‘glamping’ route with its electrical appliances and comfortable beds. For the rest of us a camping trip generally means trying to get some shut-eye in a slightly damp sleeping bag, in a stuffy tent surrounded by muddy boots, jackets, dogs etc – but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

What most definitely isn’t fun is spending the weekend dashing back and forth from the tent to the facilities because of food poisoning. Food safety is just as important when we’re away as when we’re at home, if not more so.

Keeping food cool on a camping trip

When the car’s groaning under the weight of our luggage, it might feel like we’re taking everything but the kitchen sink with us. But we don’t take fridges and freezers, so ensuring that food is kept cool can be a real challenge. Similarly we need to take care when cooking outdoors to ensure that meat in particular is cooked all the way through.

Of course the easy way is to eat out all the time, but that’s not always possible, so here are some tips to make sure that the food you eat won’t give you any trouble:

Bring at least one cooler

A cooler is the next best thing to a refrigerator when you’re camping. It will keep perishable foods cool for as long as the ice remains frozen. You could use one cooler for drinks and another for food. When preparing the cooler use either frozen gel packs or blocks of ice rather than ice cubes as they will last longer. Ice blocks can be made by freezing water in plastic containers or empty cartons.

Next load the cooler in order, making sure you double wrap the food. Always ensure that meat is placed at the bottom of the cooler to avoid cross contamination. This will prevent any juices dripping onto other items as the meat thaws. The rest of the food should be placed in the order you are planning to eat it, with the food to be eaten first at the top. It’s also a good idea to place a blanket or similar over the cooler to insulate it and to open it as few times as possible.

Remember, once the ice in the cooler has melted, the food will no longer be chilled, so should be thrown away.

Plan menus in advance

Since you can’t just pop leftovers in the fridge or freezer, try to plan your menus in advance using any perishable foods in the first two days. This is when your cooler will be working most efficiently. If you can, try to avoid leftovers by bringing just enough. If you do need to save leftovers, make sure they are placed in an airtight container and stored in a cooler.

Bring non-perishable foods

Rather than relying on fresh meat, bring tinned versions. There are plenty of choices, such as tinned ham, chicken, corned beef, minced beef, chilli, curry etc. These don’t require refrigeration and can be either eaten cold or heated up in a pan over a stove. Other good choices include dried pasta and rice and dehydrated foods such as mashed potato, soups and sauces.  Concentrated fruit juice and UHT milk or dried milk powder will keep better than their fresh counterparts.

Food safety for barbecues


If you’re planning on taking burgers, steaks, pieces of chicken or fish to barbecue the best way of keeping it safe on the journey is to freeze it first, then transport it in your cooler. Then the same rules for barbecuing at home apply i.e.

  • Wash your hands and ensure the barbecue and all utensils are clean
  • Don’t start cooking until the coals are red with a powdery grey surface
  • Ensure that any frozen food is thoroughly defrosted before you place it on the barbecue grill
  • Cook all food thoroughly – that means juices running clear and burgers, sausages etc. cooked and hot all the way through with no pink bits. Just because something is charred on the outside it doesn’t mean it’s cooked on the inside, so cut into it to check before serving
  • Rotate the food on a regular basis so that it’s cooked evenly
  • Use separate plates for raw meat and other foods such as bread buns, salad etc. DO NOT return cooked burgers and sausages to the same plates they were on before cooking!
  • Wash hands after handling raw meat – if you don’t have running water, you can use wipes or antibacterial gel

Make sure drinking water is safe

The water in that stream or brook might look crystal clear, but you can’t really be sure that it’s safe to drink. The best thing to do when camping is bring bottled water for drinking or fill containers from verified sources, such as facilities at the campsite. If you’re nowhere near civilisation you need to use water purification tablets and filters and also boil water and allow it to cool before drinking to kill any pathogens.

Online food safety course just £15

If you’re interested in ensuring the food you prepare is safe, why not take our online Level 2 Food Safety course? It costs just £15, doesn’t take long to complete and will give you complete peace of mind. It’s also an essential qualification if you work in an environment where you are producing or serving food.

Happy camping!