Friday, June 26, 2009

A Camping We Will Go

Last year, my family and I officially became regular campers. We were novices back then and were never fully prepared for the weekend away from home with limited facilities. After too many weekends of surviving on potato chips and graham crackers, we started to expand our horizons. We lease a seasonal campsite and have access to a grill, which we decided we wanted to actually use. I have a food poisoning phobia, so I had to make sure things were done the right way, for the safety of all involved.

The single most important piece of equipment for dining at a campsite is a cooler. Or maybe two. We use a large marine cooler that keeps things well below 40 degrees for an entire weekend with outdoor temperatures into the 90s. Ideally, if you can manage it, having one cooler for beverages and another for food is the best situation. Think of all the times you open and close the cooler to get a drink. Each time you do that, you let cold air out (or is it warm air in?). If you have a good amount of uncooked foods, having the separate coolers can be a better set up. Be sure to have plenty of ice or reusable ice packs in your cooler. Cold foods must be kept below 40 degrees. If the temperature in the cooler gets above that, bacteria can reach dangerous levels after two hours. Definitely better to be safe than sorry. If you don’t want to take a lot of raw foods that need to be cooked, you can always do all of your cooking at home, then store those foods in the cooler and eat them cold.

Some cooler tips:
Pack pre-chilled beverages (not warm), plus a few frozen water bottles.
Keep cooler in the shade as much as possible
Wash produce at home before your trip
Store raw foods in separate containers and storage bags to avoid cross-contamination

If you are cooking your foods at the campsite, bring along your food thermometer and follow this guideline for proper food temperatures:

Beef, veal and lamb should reach 145 degrees.
Pork should reach 160 degrees
Ground meats should reach 160 degrees
Poultry should reach 165 degrees

And remember: You can never have too many handi-wipes. Hand sanitizing gel is great too – just don’t let the kids lick it off their hands.

Maybe you’d like to have some time off from cooking. In that case, some suggestions for easy on-the-go foods to take camping are:

Peanut Butter (or cashew butter, almond butter, etc)
Canned foods (tuna, chicken, soup, stew, chili, and Spam – don’t knock it ‘til you try it!)
Trail Mix
Granola Bars
Dry cereal
Dried fruit
Fresh fruit
Veggies (carrot sticks, radish, sliced cukes, zucchini, jicama, celery etc)
Pre-cooked veggies (cold roasted veggie sandwiches are pretty good)
Cold cuts
Smoked fish (if you like that kind of thing. I do!)
Other favorite sandwich fixin's
Yogurt or GoGurt (we like GoGurt Simple without artificial colors/flavors. You can freeze them.)
And of course, what camping trip would be complete without S’Mores!

Don’t forget utensils, plates, napkins, and any other cooking/eating tools and you are all set for a great weekend enjoying the great outdoors. Enjoy!

P.S. As my mother-in-law (a.k.a. the food safety police) says…”When in doubt, throw it out”. Words to live by.

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