Camping provides an excellent opportunity to connect with nature and take a break from the hectic, technology-driven lifestyle. Load up the car or truck, pack up family or friends, and check that list to make sure you have the camping essentials before heading to your favorite KOA — navigation, flashlight, nutrition and of course your trusty food thermometer.
A food thermometer? Most people don’t think about it as a camping necessity, but to determine if meat or poultry cooked on a portable stove or an open fire is safe to eat, a food thermometer is the way to go.
Camping while trying to keep food safe can be a challenge. Warmer temperatures present opportunities for microorganisms to grow faster. Most bacteria grow rapidly at temperature between 40°F and 140°F. That temperature range is known as the “Danger Zone.”
Having a food thermometer along for the trip will help you measure the correct internal temperature of meat or poultry to ensure you don’t get sick. There are two types of food thermometers: digital and dial. Digital thermometers register the temperature in the very tip of the probe, so the safety of thin food, such as hamburger patties and boneless chicken breasts, can be determined. A dial thermometer determines the temperature of a food by averaging the temperature along the stem and therefore should be inserted 2-2 ½ inches into the food. If the food is thin, the probe must be inserted sideways.
Plan ahead before you brave the great outdoors. Along with pots and pans, pack only the food you need and that can be transported safely. One of the general rules of food safety is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. While packing your coolers with food and beverages, make sure to include plenty of ice or gel packs to keep the food at a safe temperature. The temperature of the cooler should be below 40°F (4.4°C).
Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, or email or chat at AskKaren.gov.
Nirav Shah, MBA, MPH Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA