Eye on Extension: Keep food safe outdoors!

VALLEY — This time of year often makes for a great time to get outdoors to be active as summer temperatures begin to drop, but before colder temperatures set in. Warm weather is also connected with higher risk of foodborne illness so it’s important to focus on ways to keep food safe in outdoor settings. This requires planning and consideration prior to going hiking or camping, but taking the extra steps will be worth it to prevent those “bad bugs” from spoiling the fun.

Elderly persons, pregnant women, young children and immune-compromised individuals are more vulnerable to foodborne illness so it is especially important for these individuals or their caregivers to follow recommended food safety practices as follows:

Clean Hands – Handwashing is the best way to prevent spread of germs but it is usually more challenging in outdoor environments;

* Use soap and warm water when possible.

* Scrubbing the entire hand is a key step in handwashing, especially in less-than-ideal conditions.

* Hand sanitizer or wipes can be used if soap and water are unavailable; however, they are not as effective in destroying viruses.

Clean Water and Contact Surfaces - Cleanliness includes using a clean water source. Even the most pristine-looking water can be contaminated by microscopic pathogens. 

* Always filter or boil water for safe drinking and dishwashing.

* Choose a method appropriate for potential risks in your water source and follow the instructions carefully.

* It’s important to know that in our state at higher elevations, water will boil at lower temperatures so allow for extra cooking time.

* When camping, boil a pot of water while enjoying your meal to have ready for washing dishes afterwards.

* Keep dishes and food prep area clean, and separate raw products from other foods to avoid cross-contamination. Raw meats should be sealed in separate packages or double bagged.

* Don’t put cooked meats or ready-to-eat foods on dishes that held raw meats and wash utensils before reusing.

Check Time and Temperature - Bacteria can grow rapidly between 40F and 140F and Colorado summer and fall temperatures often fall within this “Danger Zone.” Before food is cooked or after it has been prepared, limit the amount of time that perishable foods are left out to “no more than two hours or one hour if the outdoor temperature is 90F or higher.” Some bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by heating, making it especially important to keep foods such as cut fruit and vegetables, ready-to-eat-salads, milk products, poultry, eggs, and meats at safe temperatures.

* Keep cold foods cold and heat hot foods to appropriate temperatures.

* Do not bring raw meat, including poultry, products unless you can keep them at proper temperatures until use (40F).

* If perishables are kept cold in a cooler, then cook thoroughly to USDA Safe Minimum Internal Temperature guidelines.

* The best way to know if food has reached a safe cooking temperature is bring a meat thermometer and use it!

Plan Ahead – Prepping foods at home can make outdoor trips more manageable, like cracking raw eggs into a leak-proof container, as long as these foods are help at 40F or below until ready to use. When organizing a longer trip, consider freezing cold foods to pack in a cooler and use early in your trip, and plan to enjoy nonperishable or dehydrated foods later in your trip. For short excursions or for those times when you can’t bring a cooler, shelf-stable snack foods like meal replacement bars, trail mix, whole fresh fruit, or a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be safe and nourishing options.

For more information contact Mary Ellen Fleming at 852-7381, or visit the CSU Extension Office for the San Luis Valley Area at 1899 E. Hwy 160 in Monte Vista.  Please feel free to visit our website at:  http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu for information about services provided.

Extension programs are available to all without discrimination, Colorado State University Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado Counties cooperating.