Handling Meat Safely While Cooking Outdoors
Follow these tips to eat well and safely outdoors
By: Monica Stockbridge, Frontière Natural Meats
We love the experience of cooking our favorite meats during an outdoor adventure, whether that’s camping in the mountains or picnicking in the park. Here, we review a few ways to ensure safe food handling while enjoying the great outdoors.
Cooking (and eating) outdoors is one of the joys of the summer season. From packing a picnic, to grilling food at a tailgate cook-out, to cooking meat over a campfire, we love taking our food experiences into the wild. There’s something about the fresh air, open sky, and a bit of char that can make just about any food taste amazing.
Of course, this depends on a certain level of food-handling savvy. Whether you’re in your own kitchen or cooking over a fire at a campsite, the same food safety principles apply. And when you’re not right next to your usual creature comforts, such as a kitchen sink or slew of kitchen supplies, it takes a little more effort to be sure you’re keeping your food safe and your dining mates (and yourself!) healthy. This is especially important when handling and cooking raw meat or poultry.
Here are a few tips for handling food on your next outdoor adventure:
Wash your hands often
No matter what type of food you’re working with, you’ll want to wash your hands well and often. Bring along a small bottle of biodegradable liquid soap and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any food, raw meat included. Hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial wipes can work in a pinch.
Keep cold food cold
Transporting and holding food is one of the most important things to think about when it comes to cooking food outside — or anywhere other than your own kitchen.
After all, we usually keep food in the refrigerator when we’re home, and bring it out when we’re ready to cook. But during a picnic or a camping weekend, you probably won’t find a fridge nearby.
Coolers play a crucial role in keeping cold foods cold, so long as they’re properly iced down. The temperature should mimic a refrigerator — that is, somewhere around 40 °F or lower. Higher than that and you get into the “Danger Zone,” where harmful bacteria could develop.
Store food safely
When storing raw meat, it’s important to keep it tightly wrapped and sealed to prevent any leakage onto other food or drinks. The best way is to keep it in its original sealed packaging until its time to use it. Pack a few extra food storage baggies for extra protection.
When using coolers to keep meat cold, we suggest keeping food in one cooler and drinks in another. After all, you might be reaching for a soda or beer more often than you would for dinner ingredients. This way, you won’t open the lid to the food cooler quite as often. This helps keep things chilled and also helps prevent cross-contamination.
When preparing food at a picnic or campsite, be sure to think wisely about what you’re cutting, touching or preparing and where. You don’t want to use the same surface to hold raw meat as you would to prepare raw veggies. If you do, you risk cross-contamination — that is, spreading potentially harmful bacteria from one food to another.
Consider designating a set of utensils, knives and cutting boards strictly for raw meat, and another for veggies. It’s a little more to carry, but it’ll make it easier to remember to separate prep surfaces and tools. You can also bring disposable latex gloves for handling meat (think forming burger patties or slicing steak), which you can simply peel off and toss when finished.
Cook to safe temperatures
Part of safe meat handling involves cooking the meat to safe internal temperatures. The USDA recommends cooking raw beef to at least 145 °F (160 °F for ground meats). Use a food thermometer to be sure you’ve reached the right temperature. Allow your food to rest off the heat for three minutes or more before consuming.
In order to have an enjoyable outdoor cooking experience, be sure to follow these safe food handling principles. After all, a little planning and extra vigilance ensures you’ll a great meal and stay healthy afterward.
For more on safe food handling, check out the USDA’s food safety tips.
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