Camping tips from the USDA

6 Packing Tips to Eat Safely When Camping

Latino family camping with a tent in background

More Latinos are braving the great outdoors, and they are camping more often than non-Latino campers. In 2016, nearly one million people began camping and about 12 percent of those new campers were Latino, according to a survey sponsored by Kampgrounds of America (KOA).

And while Latinos agree that nature is good food for the soul, cooking delicious dishes to nourish the bodyis one of their favorite camping activities. But outdoor cooking requires some planning, particularly when it comes to deciding what to eat and how to transport and store food safely. Make sure you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite Latino dishes free from the bacteria that cause food poisoning. Follow the packing tips below and you’ll be a safe campfire cooking pro.

  1. Camping-Friendly Foods – Look for foods that are light enough to carry and that can be transported safely. If you’re packing for more than one day, you can bring cold foods in a cooler for the first day (see our tips below), but you’ll have to pack shelf-stable items for the next few days. Download USDA’s FoodKeeper App for a list of camping-friendly shelf-stable food.
  2. Cleaning Supplies – Washing your hands and your cooking/eating gear is an important part of keeping your family safe from foodborne illness while camping, so you’re going to need cleaning supplies. Bring disposable wipes or biodegradable soap for hand and dishwashing. Find out if there’s a source of running water at your campsite or park. If your only option is getting water from a lake or river, then boil it or use sanitizing tablets to kill bacteria.
  3. Cooking Gear – Once you’ve selected your menu, you’ll need to think about what cooking gear to bring. From nested pots and pans to aluminum foil to a portable stove, there’s a ton of camping cooking gear options out there. To keep your camping trip free of foodborne illness, you need 4 things to prepare food safely: separate knives for raw meat and other foods, separate cutting boards for cutting your raw meats and other foods, separate containers for raw and cooked foods and our next item, a food thermometer.
  4. Food Thermometer – If you are cooking meat or poultry on a portable stove or over a fire, you’ll need a way to determine when it is done and safe to eat. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness–and it can be especially tricky to tell the color of a food if you are cooking in a wooded area in the evening–so be sure you have a food thermometer to determine if your meat and poultry are ready to eat. Visit for a list of safe internal cooking temperatures for all types of meat and poultry.
  5. A Cooler – If you bring a cooler, follow these packing tips to keep your cold foods cold:
  • Pack using frozen clean, water-filled cartons to make blocks of ice (ice blocks last longer than ice cubes) or use frozen gel packs.
  • Pack raw meats below the ready-to-eat foods – like cheese – to prevent raw meat or poultry juices from contaminating your other foods. Double wrap raw meat and poultry in plastic bags to prevent juices from leaking.
  • Pack everything else in the reverse order you plan to eat them; so the first foods you pack in the cooler should be the last foods you use.
  • Bring a separate beverage cooler and a food cooler if you can. Since each time you open your cooler, it decreases the amount of time the cooler stays cool, this tip will help keep your food cold longer.
  1. Drinking Water – No matter how clean it looks water from a lake or stream can carry harmful bacteria and parasites. Plan on carrying bottled water for drinking. Or if that’s not an option, you can always boil it, or use purification tablets (don’t confuse purification tablets with sanitizing tablets) and water filters instead.

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Safe Camping

Food Safety While Camping
Jun 29, 2015
Janice Lopez-Munoz, MSIH, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
Hotdogs heating on a campfire.Camping is a great way to spend time with family and friends while taking in the great outdoors. As you set up your tent and pots and pans, don’t neglect your food safety routine just because you’re outdoors. The safety steps you take when cooking at home don’t change when you cook over a camp fire or grill.


Safe Food and Cooking While Camping
If your camping plans will be for more than a day, meal planning becomes more important. Canned goods are safe and shelf-stable. If your menu includes any of these items they can be stored in your pack without a cold source: peanut butter in plastic jars, concentrated juice boxes, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned beef and dried fruits and nuts.

If your meals will need some cooking, having the necessary equipment at your camping area is a must. Make sure you to pack any equipment you will need (e.g. portable stove) and be sure to include a food thermometer. The only way to determine if your meat or poultry is safe to eat is to use a food thermometer.

Serving Hot and Cold Items While Camping
Burgers are always popular while camping, but ground beef may be contaminated Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7 (a particularly dangerous strain of bacteria). Using of a food thermometer to check if your patties are cooked to a minimum temperature of 160 °F is critical. If the meal plan includes another popular item, hot dogs, make sure they are steaming hot.

Keeping perishables cool is essential to avoid food becoming unsafe. Bacteria multiply rapidly at warm temperatures, and food can become unsafe if held in the “Danger Zone” (40 °F – 140 °F) for more than two hours. If the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F, food can become dangerous after only one hour. That’s why it is essential to pack one or two coolers for your camping trip–one for drinks and snacks and another one for other perishable food. Remember to pack your coolers with ice or frozen gel packs.

Last but not least, don’t forget to pack some disposable wipes or biodegradable soap for your hands and quick cleanups.

If you have any questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or visit to chat with a Food Safety Specialist. Follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter to receive daily tips and information on recalled food.