When travelling you may not always be able to safely eat when, where and what
you wish. Take a look at your servers! Are they clean looking? Most importantly,
do their hands and fingernails look clean? Do they keep their hands away from
their faces and hair? Foodborne illness can be passed person-to-person or from
the bathroom by unwashed hands. Burns and cuts that may be infected are also a
plentiful source of harmful bacteria. If you can, try to get a glimpse of the
person who is fixing your food. You decide from there.
Plates, glasses and utensils should be clean and spot free. If they have
dried-on food, finger prints, or lipstick on glasses, then the dishwasher is
likely on the blink. Ask for clean replacements or move on down the road.
Fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables should appear fresh and have a fresh
aroma. Wilted salads may be an indication that the product is old or has not
been properly handled.
See any bugs? If you have to share your table with roaches, it’s time to leave.
What is the general condition of the restaurant environment? Sure, you don’t eat
off the floor, but how the manager keeps the place up may be an indication of
the amount of pride they take in preparing your food.
And remember, don’t drink the water!
Shopping For Food:
Plan ahead, decide what you are going to eat and how you are going to cook
it—then plan what equipment you will need. Buy your food from a reputable
supplier. Examples of foods to avoid are custards, egg salad, potato salad,
chicken salad, macaroni salad, ham, salami, most cheese, cooked poultry and
dressing, and smoked fish.
More foods that my be dangerous are home-made mayonnaise, some sauces [e.g.
hollandaise] and some desserts, such as mousses. Ice cream is frequently
contaminated if it comes from an unreliable source.
Be especially wary of unpasteurized milk, non-bottled drinks [they are likely to
be contaminated and possibly unsafe]. Boil uncooked food and unpasteurized milk
Fruit and vegetables that YOU can peel or shell are okay.
Ensure that even cooked food has been thoroughly and freshly cooked and is
piping hot. Cooked food that has set at a mildly warm room temperature for more
than two hours holds one of the greatest risks of food-borne disease because
bacteria may multiply in it. If room temperature is hotter, 90 F or more, leave
out no longer than one hour.
Various species of fish and shellfish contain poisonous biotoxins at certain
times of the year. So check with the local population.
Buy only hard cheeses marked “aged 60 days” [or longer].With purchased or
delicatessen cold food, eat or refrigerate immediately.
Take care with perishable foods before you get them home. Purchase them at your
last stop, especially in hot weather, get them home and into the fridge quickly.
Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature, keep in fridge ’till defrosted.
Wash hands with soap and warm water before preparing, serving or eating food.
Avoid using hands to mix foods when clean utensils can be used. Keep hands away
from mouth, nose and hair.
General Rules for Outdoor Food Safety:
Items which don’t require refrigeration include fruits, vegetables, hard cheese,
canned meat or fish, chips, bread, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and
pickles. You don’t need to pack them in a cooler. Carry bottled water for
drinking. Otherwise, boil water or use water purification tablets. Don’t use
untreated water to clean your contact lenses but use only what is manufactured
solely for that use.
Don’t leave trash in the wild or throw it off your boat.
If using a cooler, leftover food is safe only if the cooler still has ice in it.
Otherwise, discard leftover food.
Whether on land or sea, protect yourself and wash your hands before and after
Preparing For The Trip:
Pack safely, use a cooler if travelling by car, camping or boating. Keep raw
foods separate from other foods. Never bring meat or poultry products without a
cold source to keep them safe. Bring disposable wipes or biodegradable soap for
hand and dishwashing.
Household pets and even some pet treats carry harmful bacteria, so keep them
away from foods. Also be sure you wash your hands after petting your animals or
handling their food.
When backpacking or hiking, the foods to bring are peanut butter in plastic
jars, concentrated juice boxes, canned tuna, ham, chicken and beef, dried
noodles, soups, dried nuts, fruits, powdered milk and fruit drinks, powdered
mixes for biscuits or pancakes, dried pasta, powdered sauce mixes, and rice.
Take only the amount you need. Pack foods in the frozen state with a cold
When cooking meat use a meat thermometer for beef patties. Cook until 160
Fahrenheit. Heat hot dogs to 165 F. Chicken breasts to 170 F and legs and thighs
to 180 F. Be sure to clean the thermometer between uses.
If travelling by car, for perishables use an ice chest or insulated cooler with
sufficient ice, or gel packs to keep the food at 40 F. Pack food directly from
the fridge or freezer into it. Why? Bacteria grow and multiply rapidly in the
danger zone between 40 F and 140 F [out of the refrigerator or before food
begins to cook]. So, food transported without an ice source or left out in the
sun at a picnic won’t stay safe long.
Put in air-conditioned passenger section, not in the trunk. At the camp site,
insulate the cooler with a blanket or tarp and keep it in the shade. Keep the
lid closed and avoid repeated openings. Replenish the ice if it melts. Once gel
packs and their cold sources melt and cannot be replaced, perishables are not
With finfish, scale, gut and clean fish as soon as they’re caught. Live fish can
be kept on stringers or in live wells, as long as they have enough water and
enough room to move and breathe.
Wrap fish, both whole and cleaned, in water-tight plastic and store on ice. Keep
3 to 4 inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler. Alternate layers of fish and
ice. Store the cooler out of the sun and cover with a blanket.
Once home, eat fresh fish within 1 to 2 days or freeze them. For top quality,
use frozen fish within 3 to 6 months.
Crabs, lobsters and other shellfish must be kept alive until cooked. Store in
live wells or out of water in a bushel or laundry basket under wet burlap or
Crabs and lobsters are best eaten the day they’re caught. Live oysters should be
cooked within 7 to 10 days.
Live mussels and clams should be cooked within 4 to 5 days.
Eating raw shellfish is extremely dangerous. People with liver disorders or
weakened immune systems are expecially at risk.
Cleanup on the boat is similar to cleanup in the wild. Bring disposable wipes
for handwashing, and bag all your trash to dispose of when you return to shore.
Vacation Home or RV:
If a vacation home or a recreational vehicle has not been used for a while,
check leftover canned food from last year. The Meat and Poultry Hotline
recommends that canned foods that may have been exposed to freezing and thawing
temperatures over the winter be discarded. Also, check the refrigerator. If
unplugged from last year, thoroughly clean it before using. Make sure all food
preparation areas in the vacation home or in the recreational vehicle are
It’s perfectly safe to store uncooked patties as well as raw steaks, ribs, chops
and raw poultry in the refrigerator for a day or so until ready to pack the
cooler. If marinating meat and poultry, store in the refrigerator—not on the
counter. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce, reserve a portion
before putting raw meat in it. Don’t reuse the marinade, throw it out!
Perishables must be kept cold or cooked and chilled. Food should not be out of
the refrigerator or oven longer than 2 hours. If cooking foods beforehand—such
as turkey, ham, chicken, and vegetable or pasta salads—prepare them in plenty
of time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator. Divide large amounts of food
into small containers for fast chilling and easier use. Keep cooked foods
refrigerated until time to leave home.
Purchasing Take-Out Foods:
If you’re planning on purchasing take-out foods such as fried chicken or
barbecued beef, eat them within two hours of pickup. Otherwise, buy ahead of
time to chill before packing them into the cooler.
Except when served, the food should be stored in a cooler. As the refrigerator
at home when the power is off, the more times you open a cooler, the more cold
air will escape. Once the ice melts, the cooler won’t be able to keep food safe.
Keep cold drinks in a separate cooler to avoid constantly opening the one
containing perishable foods.
If you’ve packed cooked foods in several small containers, you can serve one and
keep the others cold for second helpings. Leave raw meat in the cooler, too.
When cooking it, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit on the
Grilling Safety for Safety and Quality:
The coals should be very hot before cooking food. For optimal heat, burn them 20
to 30 minutes or until they are lightly coated with ash. The USDA recommends
against eating raw or undercooked ground beef since harmful bacteria could be
present. To be sure bacteria are destroyed, cook hamburgers to 160 F on a meat
thermometer. Large cuts of beef such as roasts may be cooked to 145 F for medium
rare or to 160 F for medium. Cook ground poultry to 165 F and poultry parts to
180 F. Reheat pre-cooked meats until steaming hot. When taking foods off the
grill, don’t put the cooked items on the same platter which held the raw meat.
Raw meat juices can contain bacteria that could cross-contaminate safely cooked
foods. Do not partially grill extra hamburgers to use later. Once you begin
cooking hamburgers by any method, cook them until completely done to assure that
bacteria are destroyed.
Keeping Leftovers Safe:
Place leftover foods in the cooler promptly after grilling or serving. Any left
outside for more than an hour should be discarded. For the return trip, the
cooler should again travel in the air-conditioned part of the car. If you were
gone not more than 4 or 5 hours and your perishables were kept on ice except
when cooked and served, you should be able to use the leftovers.
Check the cooler when you get home. If there is still ice in the cooler and the
food is “refrigerator cool” to the touch, the leftovers should be safe to eat.
Remember: cook it, peel it, or leave it—and don’t drink the water!