Outdoor food safety

Follow our food-safety tips to avoid having a food-borne illness interrupt your summer holiday.

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Make sure eating outdoors is a pleasure not a pain.

Food just seems to taste better when eaten outdoors. And it tastes even better when you’ve caught or gathered it yourself ... but preparing and eating food in the great outdoors presents some challenges for food safety: there’s often nowhere to wash your hands, refrigeration may be non-existent and cooking methods primitive. And what could be worse than food poisoning away from the comforts of home?

By following our food-safety tips you can avoid having a food-borne illness interrupt your summer holiday.

If you’re pitching a tent ...

You’ll probably be relying on chilly bins for “refrigeration”. Save chilly bin space for perishable foods rather than drinks – the drinks don’t need to stay cold to remain safe. Or have a separate chilly bin for drinks. That means the food chilly bin gets opened less often and stays cooler.

Whether cooking over a portable gas cooker, camping stove or barbecue make sure you cook food thoroughly. Mince and sausages must be cooked right through.

Wash and dry your hands before preparing and eating food. If you’re really roughing it and water for hand-washing is scarce, use hand sanitiser.

Just like at home, food-preparation areas and utensils need to be kept clean. If possible, have separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and ready-to-eat foods. Wash all these thoroughly with hot soapy water after use. If there’s no hot water, soak in disinfectant to kill any bugs.

If you’re going bush ...

You may be drinking untreated water from lakes and streams. Even if the water looks and tastes clean, it could be infected with Giardia – a nasty parasite that can be contracted from drinking or swimming in infected water, or eating food washed with infected water.

The most effective way to kill the parasite is by boiling water for at least three minutes. Chemical treatments including iodine, chlorine or silver-based treatments can also be used. Filters are OK (provided they’re fine enough). Visit a tramping shop to get what you need before you go.

If you’re fishing ...

Keep fish fresh by putting it on ice in a chilly or fish bin as soon as possible and keep it out of the sun in a cool spot. This is particularly important for species like kahawai, mackerel, tuna or kingfish. These fish produce histamine when they spoil, which can cause serious allergic reactions in people who eat them.

Scale, gut and clean your catch as soon as you can.

Shellfish are a high-risk food because they filter bacteria from contaminated water and are often eaten raw or lightly cooked, which doesn’t always kill harmful pathogens, chemicals or biotoxins.

Young children, frail older people, pregnant women, and anyone with a chronic illness or compromised immune system should avoid shellfish. But they can be safely enjoyed by most people if you follow a few rules:

  • Collect only from areas with clean water. Check for any signs on the seashore that restrict the collection of shellfish. If in doubt, don’t collect.
  • Keep shellfish alive and cool to keep them fresh. Store them in a bucket of fresh seawater while collecting, and use a chilly bin to transport them home. (But don’t let them come into contact with ice or icepacks as they’ll freeze and die.)
  • Don’t eat shellfish that have died during storage. Live mussels or scallops may respond by shutting their shells tightly when you tap them. Live oysters will keep their shells tightly closed. Dead shellfish won’t respond and should be discarded. When steaming shellfish in their shells, discard any unopened shellfish.
  • Don’t cook or eat shellfish with broken shells.

Eat freshly caught fish and shellfish within two days. Only catch and collect what you can realistically eat – but if you catch too much, freeze it.

And try not to cook more than you can eat. This is to avoid leftovers, which can be tricky to keep safely when you’re away from home. Thoroughly reheat any leftovers to 80°C for at least three minutes.

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