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Live Well. Eat Well.

Enjoy the Geat Outdoors-safely!

Ah, the smell of a campfire. Roasted marshmallows, hot dogs, fruit cobbler, foil packets of hobo stew…. there is nothing as good as simple food cooked over an open fire. I can almost taste it now! Whether it's a day at the park or a weekend camping trip, preparing and eating food outdoors takes some special consideration. Even if you are taking a dish to a family reunion, you need to follow some basic food safety steps.

We all know to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. If you are only going to be gone a few hours you can keep hot foods hot in an insulated container made for that purpose. It is unrealistic to expect foods to stay warm for more than two hours, so if you are planning to eat later in the day it is best to cook the food at the campsite or park. In order to ensure safe food, keep the food as cold as possible before you cook it. Freeze meat patties or steaks and wrap them tightly or place in freezer bags before putting them into your insulated cooler. A good idea is to pour marinade or dry rub over the meat before you put it into the cooler, that way the meat will absorb the flavors as it slowly thaws in the cooler. Place large blocks of ice in the cooler as they melt more slowly than cubes. You can make ice blocks by freezing water in clean plastic food grade containers leftover from ice cream, cottage cheese or other food items. This will slow the thawing process and ensure that even hours later, the temperature will not have risen over the 40 ° danger zone mark (41-135°F.)

Use two coolers, one for meats and vegetables (wrapped separately) that will be cooked and another for fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw, dairy products and beverages. When handling raw meat at the campsite make sure your hands and all surfaces touched by the meat are washed prior to and after preparation. It is very important that you do not cross contaminate other surfaces by simply wiping the raw meat juices with a dry towel. Wash everything with hot soapy water. If there is not hot running water nearby make a hand washing station with an insulated drink cooler (heat the water before putting it in the cooler), some liquid soap and a roll of paper towels. After you have made sure everything is clean, it is time to cook. Bring a thermometer along—it is the only sure way to tell if the meat is "done" and always use a clean platter to serve the cooked meat. Food borne illness is never a good thing and it is made worse when it occurs away from home. Keep your family safe by keeping your campsite and your hands clean!

This post come from Mary Liz Wright, the Nutrition and Wellness Educator serving the counties of Clark, Crawford and Edgar. Wright's expertise is in food preservation, food safety, school gardens, school wellness, and communication/demonstration. Wright is the host of a series of cooking videos, "What's Cooking with Mary Liz Wright" featured on the U of I Extension website,, under the youtube icon.

Safe cooking temperatures:

Poultry Products

165° F

Ground Meat

160° F

Prime Rib

130° F

Steak, roast, chops

140° F

USDA safe minimum cooking temperatures

To Safely Marinate Foods:

  • Marinate in a non-metal container in the refrigerator.
  • Do not marinate more than 24 hours. (Meat will become mushy if left too long.)
  • Save some unused marinade to baste food during cooking.
  • Throw away any leftover marinade.


Mexicali Marinade

1/3 cup oil 1 teaspoon chili powder

2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup cider vinegar 1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup apple juice 1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a small saucepan, heat oil and cook garlic 2-3 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients

and heat through, stirring until smooth. Cool in refrigerator. Excellent for tenderizing

less expensive cuts of meat, pork or veal. Marinate strips/cubes of meat 2 hours, chops

or ribs 3 hours, and steaks at least 4 hours prior to cooking. Always marinate foods in

the refrigerator turning meat occasionally.


*recipes from Wellness Ways, University of Illinois Extension