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Keep Food Poisoning from Ruining your Vacation

Posted by Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Aug 03, 2011

Cross posted from the blog:

We look forward all year to our summer vacations. Whether you’re camping, hitting the beach, boating, or relaxing in a mountain cabin or beach house, you’ll probably be packing food.

Plan Ahead
When planning meals for a vacation, think about buying shelf-stable foods, such as canned foods, to stay safe. If you are packing perishable foods (meat, poultry, eggs, and salads) for eating on the road or to cook at your vacation spot, plan to keep everything on ice in your cooler. Have plenty of ice or frozen gel-packs on hand before starting to pack food. Consider packing drinks in a separate cooler so the food cooler is not opened frequently. Read last week’s blog to learn more tips on packing a cooler.

Pack Safely
Double wrap or place raw meat and poultry in plastic bags to prevent juices from raw products from dripping on cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw, such as fruits.

For long trips, take along two coolers — one for the day's immediate food needs, such as lunch, drinks or snacks, and the other for perishable foods to be used later in the vacation. Limit the times the cooler is opened. Open and close the lid quickly.

Once your vacation starts, follow these food safety tips:

When Camping
Keep the cooler in a shady spot. Cover it with a blanket, tarp or poncho, preferably one that is light in color to reflect heat.

Always wash your hands before and after handling food, and don't use the same plate and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Soap and water are essential to cleanliness, so if you are going somewhere that will not have running water, bring it with you. Disposable wipes will do for hands, but you’ll need soap and water for the dishes.

When Boating
If you are boating on vacation, or out for the day, make sure the all-important cooler is along. Don't let perishable food sit out while swimming or fishing. Remember, food sitting out for more than 2 hours is not safe. The time frame is reduced to just 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 °F.

When at the Beach
Plan ahead and take along only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid having leftovers. If grilling, make sure local ordinances allow it.

Bring the cooler! Partially bury it in the sand, cover it with blankets, and shade it with a beach umbrella. Bring along disposable moist towelettes for cleaning hands.

When in the Vacation Home or the Recreation Vehicle
If a vacation home or a recreational vehicle has not been used for a while, check leftover canned food from last year. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends that canned foods which may have been exposed to freezing temperatures over the winter be discarded.

Also, check the refrigerator. If unplugged from last year, thoroughly clean it before using. Make sure the refrigerator, food preparation areas, and utensils in the vacation home or in the recreational vehicle are thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water.

For more information on summertime food safety, see:
Food Safety While Hiking, Camping and Boating
High Altitude Cooking and Food Safety
Handling Food Safely on the Road

Category/Topic: Health and Safety