As summer heats up, stay healthy by keeping your food safe in the outdoors


Idaho summers are full of sunshine, warm temperatures, and long days. That means it is more likely you will be cooking and eating outdoors, whether you are backcountry camping, whitewater rafting or enjoying a family picnic in a local park. That presents some food safety challenges. As food heats up in the warm temperatures, bacteria multiply faster and could make you sick if your food isn’t handled properly.

What are the main culprits for foodborne illness when eating outdoors?

We’re talking about communicable diseases like salmonella, norovirus, E. coli and other gastrointestinal illnesses that can be caused by improperly storing, cooking or serving food, and then can spread rapidly in a group that is sharing close quarters or eating together and not practicing good hygiene and safe food handling.

What are some of the symptoms of those diseases?

For most people, symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea, but in some cases, life-threatening complications like organ failure can occur. Young children, pregnant women, adults over 65, and people with weak immune systems are more likely to get food poisoning, and if they do get sick they might have more severe symptoms.

So, does reducing your risk start with regular hand-washing?

Yes – we can’t stress hand–washing enough for everyone, but especially for people who prepare food. Disease-causing organisms can be transferred from the hands of anyone preparing food, unless that person has washed his or her hands before touching anything edible. Anyone preparing food should wash their hands frequently with soap and water.

It’s difficult to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold when you’re tent camping or on a rafting trip. What do you suggest?

The same rules apply on land or water, but you’re right, it is difficult to maintain temperatures in the outdoors if you are not using an RV or a tent trailer with a refrigerator and oven. Even so, raw eggs and meats and other potentially hazardous food should be stored in a cooler that is 41 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Raw meat should be stored in separate coolers from the rest of the food, or at least in a leak-proof container at the bottom of the cooler so it will stay colder and won’t contaminate other foods if it does leak.

Any tips for how to prepare food in the outdoors to avoid contamination?

Consider including foods that don’t require specific temperatures to be safe to eat, such as fruits, veggies, and salads that don’t contain mayonnaise. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry or fish and other foods, or clean and sanitize them in between. Cook meat and eggs thoroughly. Thaw frozen foods in coolers. Don’t keep food that might spoil or get contaminated at temperatures higher than 41 degrees for longer than four hours. Use serving utensils for everything, including bags of chips, which should be poured into a bowl before they are served.

Finally, what about cleanup – how do you wash dishes and utensils in the outdoors?

A three-container system will help make sure your dishes are clean and sanitized after a meal. Fill the first container with hot water and dish soap. Fill the second with clean hot water. Fill the third with clean warm water and a capful of bleach per gallon of water. Scrape all the food off the dishes, then wash them in the first container, rinse them in the second, and immerse them for 30 seconds in the third to sanitize them. Then air-dry the dishes on a clean surface.


(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is a slightly edited transcript of the segment from June 25.)

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