– All meat products must be stored in a water proof container
(Zip Lock bag) to prevent contaminating the other perishable
items in the cooler and to limit bacteria that may end up on
Scouts’ hands. Otherwise, by Sunday morning the cardboard box of
hamburger patties has disintegrated and the breakfast donuts
have a nice moist pink coating.
Packing and using your coolers efficiently is important to
keeping the contents from spoiling.
Every time a cooler is opened, precious cool air escapes.
Consider having two coolers, one with food for meals and another
for beverages and snacks. You'll be able to keep your foods at
a more stable temperature if the cooler isn't being opened
throughout the day.
Store your cooler in the shade. If none is available, drape the
cooler in a blanket, sleeping bag, or tarp. If you're going to
be in an extremely hot area, you might consider covering the
cooler with a reflective material like aluminized bubble wrap
(available at home improvement stores); you can even line your
cooler with it for extra insulation.
Pre-chill all food that will be in the cooler. Freeze bottles
of water and non-carbonated drinks like boxed fruit juices -
these will keep other foods cold as they thaw. You can even
freeze water in heavy-duty zip top bags. Pack your cooler in
reverse order, so that what you will use first is on top
(sometimes called LIFO: Last In, First Out). The less you have
to dig around in the cooler, the better.
Pack as much of your food as possible into water-tight bags,
so that it doesn't get soggy as ice melts. If you bring raw or
frozen meats, make sure you have them well sealed so that no
juices can leak into the ice or onto the other foods in the
cooler. Pack meat next to ice to keep it as cold as possible.
Pack the smallest possible containers of condiments, and once
they have been opened, store them in the food cooler. Do not
leave food out in the heat any longer than necessary; put cold
items away as soon as possible. Food left out longer than two
hours should be discarded; in extremely hot weather, shorten
Uncut fruits with skin on do not need to be stored in your
cooler, but wash all fruits and vegetables before leaving home
so that you don't need to do it in your camp kitchen.
Leave room in your cooler for plenty of ice, and plan to add new
ice daily. Block ice will last the longest. Gel packs and blue
ice may only last a day, depending the temperature and how often
the cooler is opened. Water from melted ice is very cold, so
don't drain your cooler until you have new ice to replace the
water you drain.
If you are not going to be able to purchase ice during a
multi-day trip, you can consider dry ice. Dry ice does not melt
(it sublimates, or becomes gas), and it
requires special handling. It will freeze anything it is
next to--your food, your cooler (which will crack), or your
hands. With careful use, dry ice can extend the safety of your
Handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood is challenging in a
kitchen with a refrigerator and sink; in a campsite those
challenges are multiplied. The same core principles apply--keep
meats cold until use, avoid cross-contamination, and cook to the
recommended temperature--it's just harder to do in a camp
Raw meat may harbor bacteria that you don't want to consume.
Raw beef can contain
E. coli, raw chicken may be contaminated with
Campylobacter or Salmonella, shellfish may contain
Norovirus or Vibrio--the list is long and seems to get
longer. Protect yourself with proper cooking and cleanup of any
raw meats and seafood.
Your meat thermometer is critical to your camp kitchen. Whether
you're cooking over a fire or on a camp stove, make sure the
internal temperature of your meat reaches
USDA recommended temperatures (pdf).
If you do bring raw meat, consider cooking it for your first
meal, so that you avoid the risk of your cooler failing to keep
it at temperature. Try to do as much prep as you can before you
leave home. By having your burgers pre-made and ready to go
on the grill, you avoid raw meat touching bowls, utensils,
cutting boards, plates, and tablecloths.
Freezing meat before your trip is tricky--if the meat is not
fully thawed when you cook it, it is very possible that the
portions of the meat will not reach the necessary temperature to
kill any pathogens.
Be meticulous about cleaning up anything that comes into
contact with the raw meat (including your hands) before you
serve or eat.
It's possible to avoid the cross contamination issue by cooking
meat before you leave home and either eating it cold or bringing
it to temperature in your camp kitchen.
Hand-washing is an important part of staying clear of food-borne
illness--it's estimated that 25 to 40 percent of food-borne
bacteria gets into our bodies via our hands. Wash your hands
thoroughly before preparing or eating meals or snacks, and after
touching fish, bait, or any raw meat. Make sure everyone cleans
their hands after bathroom stops. If water and soap are not
available, use sanitizer and wipes in the interim, but wash
hands upon returning to your campsite or water source.
Wash pots, utensils, and dishes in water that has boiled and
is still almost too hot to touch. Rinse dishes in
boiled/potable water, and dry with a clean towel or paper
towels. Make sure to dispose of any soapy water at least 200
feet from any natural water, whether it is fresh or salt.