Camping food safety: Mexican food-style

Camping as a vacation option is growing in popularity, especially in the U.S. Nearly one million people took up camping for the first time in 2016, according to a survey sponsored by Kampgrounds of America.

Many of these campers indulged in the usual camping fare: hot dogs, sausages, grilled veggies and kabobs, among other things. But for those looking for more colorful options, Maria Machuca of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has these Latin-inspired suggestions in her article, “Safe Campfire Cooking: Carne Asada, Quesadillas and Salsa.”

Carne asada is thin grilled steak, seasoned and slightly seared. Machuca reminds campers that steak needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F, and then allowed to sit for three minutes to make sure harmful bacteria have been killed.

Quesadillas are lightly grilled tortillas filled with cheese and other ingredients, either with or without meat. Because of the diverse ingredients involved, Machuca notes this important rule: “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” Cheese should be kept in the cooler until being added to the quesadilla, and any meat to be included should be kept on the grill until needed.

Fresh salsa, a dipping sauce good for chips or to be added to other dishes, can be made with raw, unrefrigerated vegetables. Be careful not to get any juices from your raw meat on the veggies during storage, transportation or cooking. Wash your hands regularly when cooking, and use separate cutting boards and knives for meat and veggies. If you aren’t going to eat it all at once, keep your salsa cold after preparation.

Great, now how do we pack all this safely?

In another article, “6 Packing Tips to Eat Safely When Camping,” Machuca outlines the top items that campers should bring to avoid cutting their trip short with a rushed visit to the doctor to get checked out for a foodborne illness.

  • Foods that are light and easily transported, either with a cooler or that are shelf-stable.
  • Supplies to keep all hands and dishes clean, and if needed, to boil water for clean washing.
  • Cooking equipment, including enough knives, cutting boards and containers to avoid cross-contamination of raw meat and other foods.
  • A food thermometer to make sure you cook meat to a hot enough temperature.
  • A cooler, used with clean ice blocks (cubes melt faster). Raw meats should be packed on the bottom so that their juices don’t contaminate other foods. Double wrap the raw meat. See the full article for more tips on safe cooler packing.
  • Don’t forget drinking water! Carry bottled water. If you must resort to lake or stream water, boil it or use purification tablets and a water filter.

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