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Outdoor Food and Water Safety

The risk of food-borne illness increases in the summer for three main reasons:
  • Bacteria that cause food-borne illness, such as Salmonella and E. coli multiply quickly in warm, moist conditions;
  • When you cook or eat outdoors, often there is limited access to the safety features found in kitchens such as refrigerators and washing facilities; and
  • If camping, food may be packed for more than one day. You could have limited access to grocery stores to acquire missing items or replenish food supplies if something goes wrong.
Planning is the key to outdoor food and water safety:
now in advance if there is a source of clean drinking water. Even when lakes, rivers and streams look clean, untreated water from these sources can carry bacteria and parasites that can contaminate food and cause illness.

If there is no treated water supply:
  1. Purify water by boiling. Bring the water to a rolling boil and continue to boil for at least one minute; OR
  2. Bring your own water supply.  
Control the temperature of high risk foods
Hazardous foods are those that are able to support the growth of harmful disease-causing organisms or toxins that cause food-borne illness. Examples include meats, poultry, dairy products, and cooked rice. The "temperature danger zone" is the ideal temperature range for bacteria growth (between 4°C and 60°C). Any hazardous food in the danger zone for more than 2 hours should be thrown out.
Pack foods that do not require refrigeration such as peanut butter, jelly, dried fruits, fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, canned beans and meats, nuts and seeds, dry pasta and soup mixes, juice boxes, breadsticks, pretzels, bagels, rice cakes, muffins, granola, trail mix, crackers and freeze-dried foods.
General outdoor food safety tips:
  • Hazardous foods must be kept at 4°C or lower.
  • Don’t pack food that has just been cooked and is still warm. Chill food overnight in the refrigerator before packing.
  • Freeze all foods that can be frozen before packing them in a cooler.
  • Thaw hazardous foods in the cooler – never on the picnic table.
  • Food must be cooked to safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Use a probe food thermometer to check the internal temperature.
  • When transporting foods to picnic or outdoor sites, it can be difficult to keep food hot, so keep it cold instead. Then heat the food up when you get to your destination.
  • Serve food immediately after cooking.
  • Return perishable foods to the cooler as soon as possible.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables with cooled boiled water – or wash them at home, before you leave.
  • Prepare meats before you leave home to reduce the need to handle them when you are outdoors.
  • Take more ice than you think you will need. Freezer packs or ice blocks are preferable as they last longer than ice cubes.
  • Don’t forget cutting boards, clean plastic bags and containers, disposable sanitizing wipes, paper towels and a probe food thermometer.
Cooler tips
  • Transport coolers in the passenger area of the vehicle – not in the hot trunk.
  • Pack beverages in a separate cooler as it is more likely to be opened. Avoid unnecessary lifting of the cooler lid which lets cold air out and warm air in.
  • Frozen juice boxes and bottles of potable water can be used to keep food cold in coolers without adding extra weight to your load.
  • Place coolers in shade or sheltered areas, away from direct sunlight. Coolers can also be wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags for added insulation.
  • Drain melted ice water often from coolers.
Avoid cross-contamination
  • Use different coolers to separate raw meats from ready-to-eat or non-hazardous foods.
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize coolers before packing them.
  • Discard all foods which have come into direct contact with melted ice water in coolers.
  • Do not use picnic tables or other outdoor equipment for cutting boards. Bring your own cutting boards.
  • Don’t cut vegetables or other ready-to-eat foods on the same cutting board as raw meat without thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the knife and cutting board first.
  • Put cooked foods on a clean plate. Never put cooked burgers back on the same plate that held the raw patties. Bring extra plates and utensils for serving cooked foods.
  • Do not place washed produce back in its original container or wrapper.
  • Clean and sanitize the probe food thermometer between uses.
  • Keep all food bowls covered at all times to avoid contamination from birds, insects, flies and other outdoor critters.
Cleaning and sanitizing
Proper hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness. Where hand-washing is not available, bring moist toilettes and hand sanitizer. Clean and wash everything that touches food or a person’s mouth. For more information on cleaning and sanitizing click here.
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