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Planning for food, and food safety above all, for your camping trip takes a bit of work, but it's worth it.

Food cooked over a camp fire under the stars somehow makes everything taste better. Keep your food, and your family, safe with these simple food storage tips, and enjoy the great outdoors!

Camp site food safety is doubly important

Safety is, and should be, your first concern when camping. All the planning and excitement for a fun-filled camping experience won't do you any good if it's all ruined because of an unpleasant experience, or worse.

When thinking about safety, most people think about putting the fire out safely, having band-aids ready, or even about insect repellent and sunscreen. But, believe me, there is another concern to think about – food safety. And we're not just talking about keeping your potato salad cold. We're also talking about keeping your food, and you, out of harms way.

How does food storage affect your safety at a camp site?

  1. Food poisoning – cases are reported every year of campers suffering from illness and actual food poisoning due to improperly cooked or improperly stored food.
  2. Wild animal attacks – although rare, cases of attacks due to an animal being startled while foraging for food are still reported.

As you can see, food storage accounts for several safety issues. Let's take a look at some tips and tricks for how to safely store food when camping.

The cold food

Choose a cooler that will safely accommodate your food and keep it cold. Placing frozen bottles of water inside of your cooler will keep your food and the cooler colder for a longer period of time, and you can drink the water. Freeze any meat that you won't be using the first day in camp. This will allow it to thaw inside of the cooler and cut down on the chances of it spoiling before you use it. It will also act as an ice block to keep everything inside the cooler cold. Think of it this way; a frozen block of ice takes up room and doesn't feed anybody, whereas a frozen slab of bacon, meat, or fish does double duty.

The non-perishable food

Store your non-perishable food items in plastic containers with airtight lids. This will keep your food items safe from weather, bugs, and larger hungry critters, and will also keep everything together in one place. Bread, cookies, and other dry food items should be kept in one container, tightly sealed. Other heavier items, like fruit, should be kept together in a separate airtight container. You don't want your grapefruit rolling around on top of your bread. And, yes, keep your canned goods in this same manner. Even though critters won't get into a can, if it rains, you won't lose the labels and end up with 'surprise soup' for dinner.

The cooking utensils

Place your cooking items such as pots, eating and cooking utensils, plates and cups in several plastic containers with snap on lids. This way you'll have everything in one place when you need to find it. By storing them in the container, you'll keep everything clean when you go to use it again. The plastic containers also double as wash up stations, which is another important safety consideration. You don't want to leave dirty food-covered utensils sitting around.

Safeguard containers for car campers

Place your food storage container and cooler inside of your car before you crawl into your tent at night. Critters such as raccoons and squirrels are quite resourceful and have learned how to open or chew through almost anything holding food. If you're in bear country, you may just wake up and find entire containers missing. And never, ever, ever store your food inside of your tent.

Safeguard containers for hikers

If you are hiking into your camp site, you won't have your car to store your food containers. Instead, you'll need to put your sealed food containers into sacks and hoist them up in a tree. Your goal is to keep them out of reach of any animals, such as bears, that may be attracted to your food. Make sure you still put your foods in airtight containers so an animal is less likely to smell anything tasty. Then be sure to hoist the bags up in a tree at least 50 yards away from camp. Do this on day one because if an animal gets even one treat from you, they will be back for another, even if you have safeguarded it.

Campfire cooking basics from set up to clean up

If firing up your gas or charcoal grill at home is your ultimate cooking experience, you haven't tried cooking over a camp fire yet. Cooking over a true open flame is similar to grilling out, but more authentic and thrilling. Imagine roasting marshmallows and making S'mores as the fire roars. Then, as the flame slows down and forms glowing embers, it's time to throw your meal on. The smoke and flavor from the wood you use acts like a giant hug to whatever food you are about to enjoy. You can almost taste it now, can't you.

But, before you get started, there are a few basic things you need to know about how to cook over an open camp fire. Once you learn the basics you'll be ready to throw a feast of delectable camp fire delights together in no time.

Fire up, burn down

In order to have a great camp fire cooking experience, it is important to let your wood or coals get as hot as possible before you try to cook on them. The importance of waiting for the fire to burn down and the embers to start glowing is all of the kindling and starter have burned away. This means you don't get the nasty newspaper smoke or pine needles smoke on your food while cooking. If you want to eat sooner, use less material or cleaner kindling to get your fire going initially. The sooner it burns off, the sooner you can begin cooking.

Methods of cooking

There are a few different methods to cooking over an open fire. Let's take a look at four of the most common ways:

  1. Direct heat and aluminum foil - Wrap food such as meat and vegetables in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the foil package on a bed of slow embers or coals. You can surround the package with a few more embers for more even cooking. Allow to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, more or less depending on the food in the packages, and you have a delicious meal in a pouch.
  2. Direct heat and long skewers - Place food such as hot dogs on skewers or prongs and roast them over the fire. This can work well with kebabs as long as the pieces are cut in appropriate sizes so they all cook at the same time. Meat would have to be smaller than a piece of pineapple, for instance.
  3. Metal grate - Place a metal grate, such as you have on your grill at home, over the camp fire and cook as you would over your grill. Adjust the height of the grate and the distance from the embers by arranging large rocks or logs to hold the grate up. Then the embers are glowing underneath the grate so you can perfectly cook that dinner.
  4. Hanging racks - Construct, or buy, a tripod or rack and put it over the fire. Now you can hang pots from it or even hang a grate. Many are adjustable so you can arrange the food to cook at the time and temperature you desire.

Clean up

When cooking on a camp fire in the great outdoors, the option of leaving the dishes go until the morning is just not available. Bears and other predators can smell food and will come exploring to find it. In order to keep your camp site safe, it is important to keep your fire and food at least fifty yards from your tent and to keep your cookware and dishes clean. You can clean cookware by placing a grate over the fire and filling two metal pots with water. When one is warm, remove it from the fire, add soap and wash dishes. When the other pot of water is hot, place soapy dishes in a mesh bag and dip into the hot water several times. Dry with towels, paper towels, or hang to air dry. Put ALL the food into closed containers and store safely away from your tents. Save your dish-washing water for the next step.

When you are ready to turn in for the night, don't just kick a little dirt on the fire and go to bed. Instead, take your dish-washing water and extinguish the fire with it when you are through. Stir the fire around and add more water if necessary, until you see every ember go out. Now, shovel dirt over the top and stir again. Remember: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” - Smokey The Bear.

Camping check list for meals

Whether you choose a camping stove or a camp fire, there are challenges to be met either way. In addition to cooking gear for preparing meals, you'll need to keep cleaning up in mind. And, don't forget storage! Open food or food scraps is a no-no at any camp site. Critters, large and small, love food scraps. Be well prepared to guard your food and keep your camp site clean and safe. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you plan how to eat while you're camping:

  • matches and lighter
  • kindling – if you get to your camp site and there are no dead branches laying around, you'll regret not bringing along your own. Better to have extra than not enough.
  • cook stove and fuel
  • garbage bags
  • paper towels
  • dish soap
  • sponges and dish cloths
  • coffee pot or tea kettle
  • sauce pan or Dutch oven
  • skillet
  • cooking oil
  • heavy duty aluminum foil
  • hot pads or oven mitts
  • plates, bowls, and cups
  • knives, forks, and spoons
  • spatula, ladle, paring knife
  • sealed bags and containers for food storage
  • wash tub
  • large drinking water containers

The cooking check list is by no way absolute, nor is it complete. We have covered a list of items to get you thinking of what you will need for your particular camping experience. This is meant to be a reminder, as many people get so excited about the fun and games, they may forget the necessities. Now, onto the other less fun part of camping – the safety.

Some things to remember when cooking on the camp site.

Camp cooking tips

Meal planning is essential when camping. Make sure you have enough food and that you eat well.

Save on time when cooking at the campground, pre-cut vegetables and meat, marinate and store in serving-sized containers.

You can reduce the number of dishes to clean when cooking by “freezer bag cooking”. It’s a method of adding boiling water to freezer bags to cook your meals.

A few easy make cooking items: Boil in bag rice, smokies and wieners cooked over the fire, noodles in a cup, cook canned foods in the can over the fire and more.

When camping, fully prepare soups, stews and other one-dish items ahead of time. Just reheat while you’re in the woods.

To avoid attracting bears and other unwanted visitors, cook as far away from your tent as possible. Always throw away all garbage and wash your dishes…away from your sleeping quarters.

A Dutch oven is a great investment for your campfire cooking. You can make just about anything you make in a regular oven.

Camp foods that need very few dishes: Hot dogs and smokies cooked on a stick, baked potatoes cooked on coals, meats cooked in a roasting cage and s’mores.

Living of the land when camping.

Camping stoves and fires.

The campfire chef has some special recipes.