How To Keep Food Safe When Camping: Things To Keep In Mind

Camping is a fun-filled activity, which will provide you with the perfect opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Whether it is summer or winter, it can be an excellent way to bond with family and friends. It can even be an excellent idea for a unique date with a loved one. It is going to give you the opportunity to destress for a while and to unplug from technology. It will allow you to commune with nature.

While it can indeed be fun, camping can also be difficult and challenging. This is basically because you are devoid of the luxuries of home or of a hotel. For many, one of the most serious concerns would be with food safety. Whether you are bringing food ready to eat or you will be cooking in the campsite, you should pay attention on how they can be prepared, handled, and stored properly to avoid health problems.

What happens when you do not pay proper attention to food safety? Well, you won’t be able to enjoy great food in the campsite, and worst, there is a risk of suffering from illnesses or other health problems. Food poisoning is the most common. This happens when you consume food that is contaminated or that is not cooked the right way. With this, food should not only be handled, transported, and stored properly, but should also be properly cooked.

In the rest of this guide, we will provide you with insights regarding safe food handling for camping. Our goal is to make camping fun and easy by giving you tips to keep your food safe while in the campsite. This guide is in no way all-inclusive, but we are going to try to cover as many things as possible. From the time that you leave your home until the time that you eat the food in the campsite, you need to keep a watchful eye and be responsible enough to be assured of food safety.

Common Food Risks in the Campsite

Before we discuss some of the most important things that you can do, it is important to first know some of the factors that could endanger your food supply. This is a good starting point to be more proactive in your approach towards food safety.

  • Animals: This is especially true in the case of bears. In most campsites, they are just roaming around the area. After all, when you are in the forest, you are just temporarily visiting a space that is actually theirs. You cannot keep them away from where you live. Some nights, when you are in your deepest slumber, animals can be ravaging through your food supply.
  • Weather: Is it raining? Is it too hot? Is it too cold? Weather, or temperature to be specific, can also be a reason for food contamination. There are foods that should be maintained in a cold temperature while there are some that should remain hot. Make sure that you know the best temperature for the food that you have to keep it safe while in the campsite.
  • Water: A lot of you may be thankful that there is a river or lake near the campsite, providing you with easy access to water. However, this water can actually do you more harm than good. They can be contaminated. When they are used for cooking or for washing food, your health can be in danger.
  • Humans: Yes, you can also be the reason why food can be unsafe in the campsite. If they are not prepared and stored properly, they can pose serious risks. If you do not cook them well or if you touch them with dirty hands, you can also have a problem. Make sure to pay attention to what you can do to keep food safe, including the tips that we will mention in the rest of this post.

Preparation Is Key

Camping Food

Camping Food

Even before heading the campsite, you should already be doing something to keep the food safe. In this case, proper preparation is one of the most important things that should be kept in mind. It is important to have the right camping food containers. They will help make sure that food will not get in contact with external elements that could have a negative impact on its safety. For instance, if you are camping in the wilderness, it is important to use bear-proof food containers. Make sure to use different containers for different foods. Keep those that are raw away from those that are cooked. Mixing them together can lead into food contamination, apart from the fact that taste will surely be altered.

Speaking of preparation, it would be best to prepare foods that can withstand the external environment. Opt for ready-to-eat meals that are made specifically for camping. This is a better alternative to bringing raw foods and having it cooked in the campsite. Pack a lot of protein bars, biscuits, and even chocolates. They will provide you with ready-to-eat munchies when your stomach needs a filling. Cooking is going to be effortful, apart from the fact that there are safety risks that could go with it. Nonetheless, whether you like it or not, you will find yourself cooking in the campsite, just follow the tips that we will recommend in the rest of this post.

Proper Transportation of Food

Once you have already prepared the food, the next thing that deserves your attention is its transportation. Do not just put it inside the car, especially if you have to travel long to the campsite. Make sure that food is properly stacked in the trunk. If you will be passing through rough roads, make sure that the food storage containers will be stable. It is also important that the proper temperature is going to be maintained, as it will be further discussed later. Keep it away from the heat of the sun or at least have it covered so that here will be some sort of insulation.

Maintain the Right Temperature

camping cooler

This is another important tip when it comes to handling food safely when you are camping. As a rule of thumb, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. For cold food, make sure to have it refrigerated for at least overnight prior to camping. Frozen gel packs can also be a good investment, which you can bring with you in the campsite. The right choice of cooler is also important. Make sure that it can effectively keep the temperature cold even within an extended period of time. Some of the foods that should be kept inside the cooler include pizza, pasta, cooked rice, chicken, luncheon meat, burger patties, hotdog, and beef, among others. When it comes to hot food, on the other hand, before they are packed, make sure that they have already cooled down for some time. When they are served in the campsite, make sure as well that they will be heated properly. As much as possible, reheat food one time only having it reheated several times can have an effect on its safety.

When it comes to maintaining the right temperature of food, you should also be familiar with what they call the danger zone, which is the temperature between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods should not be within such temperature range for more than two hours. Otherwise, it will be an attractive breeding ground for bacteria, and hence, can pose serious health risks. This is especial true when the food is raw.

Practice Proper Separation

This simply means that you should not mix the foods that you have as doing so can lead into contamination. Even if you have just one cooler, decide on what is more important and what should be kept inside. At all times, raw foods should be separated from those that are already cooked or prepared. Cross-contamination can be an issue. Using proper containers can help to prevent contamination. You should also make sure that anything that is clean will not mix with anything that is dirty. This is true not only in the case of your food, but even in the case of utensils and other camping essentials.

Store it Properly in the Tent

Camping food storage box or containers should also be kept properly in the tent. One of the first things to keep in mind is that they should not be left outside, especially where it can be directly reached by the heat of the sun. Keep it safe inside the tent. The sun can make food perish easily, and hence, will make it safe for consumption. In addition, keeping it inside the tent can also keep it away from the external elements that could possibly damage food quality and safety.

Pay Attention to Water

This does not only refer to the water that is used for drinking while camping, but also what you will need for food preparation and cooking. When washing fruits and vegetables, cooking soup or any other recipe, you will need to have clean supply of water. If the water is not clean, it can contaminants food. You might see clear water from the river or stream near the campsite. Regardless of how clean it is, however, it can be filled with contaminants that can endanger your health.

The best thing that you can do is to bring bottled water. For some, however, this is not a sound idea because water can be too heavy. With this, one solution is to boil water before it is used. This is going to help kill bacteria so that food sources will not be contaminated. It should be boiled for at least one minute. If you do not mind spending, you can also invest in portable water filtration systems. These are innovative and compact products that can instantly remove impurities from water in any source. Many of them can function as straws and you can pump water direct from where it can be found. Within just a few minutes, clean water will be available upon your disposal.

Keep It Safe From Bears

keep food safe from bear

Among others, bears, or even other animals, can be the most significant threats to food safety when you are camping. Bears are easily attracted to human food. They have a strong sense of smell, which is believed to be 100 times more compared to a dog. Therefore, they can easily know if there is food in the area and will immediately take advantage of it. The first thing that you have to do is to research about the campsite, which will let you know about the presence of bears. Once you know that there are indeed bears in the area, you have one good reason to be cautious and to observe extra care in food handling. The least that you would want is to wake up next morning without anything to eat for breakfast or the entire day only because bears have devoured your food.

Generally speaking, the following are some of the things that you should do:

  • Use Food Lockers: These containers or canisters will be important when camping in bear country. It is often provided in national parks, such as Yosemite. There are also some portable canisters that can be purchased. However, most of these canisters can be heavy, and hence, can put an added weight on your camping gear. If you are going to hike, keep the canister in the middle of your bag, which will be helpful in being able to maintain balance. In one study in 2010 published in International Journal of Wilderness, it has been revealed that the use of bear proof containers or lockers can indeed be an effective way to safeguard food.
  • Use Bear Wires: These wires are placed in open spaces, such as in between trees. This is going to suspend food bags up in the air, making it inaccessible for bears. In this case, there are some things that you should remember. For instance, the food bag should be suspended at a height that cannot be reached by bears. In addition, the wires should also be durable enough. In some parks, these cables are provided as part of their facilities.
  • Use Bear Poles: These are metal poles. At their pinnacle, there is an arm that acts like a hook. The bags containing food are usually hoisted on these poles when hikers sleep at night. Many backcountry campsites have their own poles as a way of making it easy for campers to ensure safe handling of their food. Camp sites must make sure that their poles are not only strong, but also high enough so that they will be unreachable by bears.
  • Use Bear Hangs: This is another solution for bear safe camping food. It can be generally done in two different ways. The first one is through counter-balancing. This is a complicated process, and many despise such. The thought of using bear canisters becomes more attractive because of the difficulty of counter-balancing. The second is through bear-bagging, which is an easier thing to do. First, you have to look for two trees that are at least 20 feet apart from each other. Next, find a parachute cord, at least 100 feet in length. On one end of the rope, have a rock tied. Toss it on a branch that is suspended at least 18 feet from the ground. Tie one end on the trunk and tie the other end on your bear bag. Have the weighted end tossed on the branch of the other tree. Tie the cord on the trunk and your food is now secured.

Cook Food Properly

cook food properly

It is not enough that you handle and store food properly. If it is not cooked well, all your efforts will just go into waste. With this, make sure to follow the proper way of cooking camping food. One of the most important things is to have sufficient amount of heat. You can bring portable stove, but you can also build your own fire. See to it that there will be enough heat to cook the food. Having a food thermometer can also be excellent, especially if you want to grill. Eating raw food can be bad for your health. If you have brought pre-cooked food, make sure that it will not easily perish. As it has also been mentioned earlier, it would be best to bring ready-to-eat food such as canned goods that do not require cooking.

When cooking, it is also important to make sure that you are going to use clean tools and cooking utensils. There are many campsites with common cooking facilities, such as a grill. Before using, see to it that it is clean. When it is dirty, such can also be true to the food that you will be eating. Whether it is the grill that you will use for BBQ, pan for cooking, or plates for eating, you also have to make sure that they are properly cleaned to eliminate the risk of contamination.

Proper hygiene is also important when cooking in the campsite. You do not have to be a chef to properly know this. Make sure that you are clean when you cook to avoid contaminate the food. Wash your hands all the time, especially before and after touching raw food. Bring a hand sanitizer or soap.

Pay Attention to Cleanliness

Cleanliness can prove to be one of the most effective ways to keep food safe while you are in the campsite. If the surroundings are dirty, food can be more prone to contamination. Therefore, start with cleaning the site. In addition, you should only be using clean plates, spoon, and fork. If they are dirty, even if the food is clean, there is still risk of contamination. You also have to see to it that your hands are kept clean all the time, especially when eating or when handling food. In the same way, food should also be kept clean. Washing it with water is a must. As it has been earlier pointed out, the water should also be clean.

To keep everything clean, most will probably resort into bringing soap and dishwashing liquid. While they can be good, they are not eco-friendly. Therefore, pay attention to their proper disposal, especially when camping near streams or rivers. There are toxic chemicals in soaps that can harm the environment in ways more than one. Look for soaps that are made from ingredients that won’t harm the environment in any way.

Educate the Little Ones

If you are camping with kids, it is important to keep them informed and educated. Share with them the tips that we have mentioned above. Let them know how important it is to handle food properly and orient them about the possible risks that could result from contamination. When they know the outcomes, they will most likely exert effort to keep food safe. Food safety in the campsite should be a collaborative effort, which is why it is going to be critical to have kids involved as well. As much as possible, do not let them touch food when it is uncooked because their hands can be dirty. Take charge of the cooking. If you want to teach them to cook their own food, teach them about food safety first.


Do not let a fun camping trip turn into a disaster. With this, make sure of proper food handling to keep it safe and fit for human consumption. From proper preparation to safe food storage for camping, it is critical to be responsible enough to be assured that you will not be eating contaminated food. It may not be easy, but as long as you know how to do it, things can be a lot easier. Pay attention to the tips that we have suggested above, and for sure, you can fill your stomach with delicious food while camping in the absence of having to be worried about food contamination, or in general, your health.


My name is William, a family man with two kids and the passion for camping. I started Pandaneo with sharing memorable camping experiences back as a newbie camper, introducing my family to the love for the great outdoors. As time passed, we started traveling across states, trying to hit as many campsites we can!