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Food Hygiene in the Wild

No-one needs food poisoning on their holiday, and especially not when you're camping in the wilderness with no bathroom nearby! But come on, a little dirt never hurt anyone right? Unfortunately it has, and just takes the one bacterium in the wrong place at the wrong time and, well - I'm sure you get the picture... 

Humans, animals, water, and even soil is naturally teeming with bacteria and that's OK. I don't wish to scaremonger as our planets ecosystem and even our own bodies wouldn't work without it! There also seems to be a great deal of allergy problems occurring nowadays blamed on this age of clean but that doesn't mean we should ignore hygiene where our food is concerned as it can quickly become a serious situation.

The good news is we just need a little knowledge and a few simple steps to keep ourselves and our travelling companions safe and well. See below for our tips to maintaining top food hygiene with limited resources in the wilds; Think Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill!


1. Clean. Will you have adequate hand washing facilities available when preparing your food? Will you be hiking and relieving yourself in the wilds before eating lunch? Hand sanitizer is NOT a complete solution, its strong chemical smell and freshness can lull you into false security but many people are unaware that it does not kill all types of bacteria - good old soap and hot water is by far the best way of cleaning your hands. We recommend using a bowl with clean hot water and biodegradable castile soap

Think ahead and have some water heated and your washing-station ready BEFORE you handle raw meat or other risky items. We love a collapsible bowl for setting up a simple sink, pour in a little cold water and add a mug of boiling from the stove and voila!

Do also consider the safety of your water source. It's not a good idea rinsing your hands or eating utensils in questionable water - it's fair to use river water to get the worst of the dirt off but make sure that you rinse properly in some clean, hot water afterwards.

For more information see our recommended page for our favourite biodegradable cleaning and water purification products.


2. Separate. Avoid cross contamination by using separate utensils for transporting or preparing raw meat as for your salad/bread etc. Either label them for purpose or have different coloured sets so you don't accidentally mix them up. Have your meal preparation planned ahead so as to chop and prepare all of the non cook items BEFORE your knife touches any raw meat.

Also consider that sometimes plastic tubs or cling-film packages can leak during transit and you don't want raw meat juices leaking onto your salad so double bag everything/ perhaps have a meat-only cooler bag. Remember to still think 'separate' when washing up afterwards too, you don't want to rinse your drinking cup in a raw meat solution so wash the risky things last if you have limited hot water available!


3. Cook. Cooking temperatures of 75°C or above are effective in destroying almost all types of bacteria however, cooking temperatures below this level are also effective provided that the food is held at these temperatures for a suitably long time period (like pasteurisation). Hot holding  of temperatures above 63°C will control the multiplication of bacteria in hot food.

If you're preparing food in advance at home remember that food should be cooled as quickly as possible and refrigerated immediately. This will limit the growth of any bacteria or germination of spores that may be present. Beware that Staph. A (the nasty behind MRSA) like many other species, also creates a great deal of toxins whilst multiplying that are NOT destroyed by heat and so can still cause food poisoning once cooked well, so the best plan to avoiding food poisoning is to discourage the growth of bacteria in the first place. 

When cooking thicker cuts of meat like chicken and sausages use a meat thermometer - a quick probe completely takes away the guesswork in whether the meat is safely cooked or not without the mess of cutting into one. They barely take up any space and let's face it are currently cheaper than a box of Immodium


4. Chill. How will your food be stored? Will you have refrigeration available the whole time or will your food be stewing in a warming picnic bag for hours on the beach or in your tent? In ideal conditions bacteria can grow and divide every 20 minutes, meaning one single bacterium can multiply into more than eight million cells in less than 24 hours

According to the Food Agency a temperature of 8°C or below is effective in controlling the multiplication of most bacteria in perishable food. It is recommended practice to operate refrigerators and chills at 5°C or below where possible. How do you know you're storing at the right temperature? A fridge thermometer is an extremely cheap and simple way to see for sure that your food is being stored safely. 

Ice packs are key to maintaining a safe low temperature, and a lot of campsites have a communal freezer available so you can have a switch system in place for your cooler box.  When the ones in your cooler have thawed swap them with the spare set in the freezer and so on. You can also turn the other items in your cooler into edible ice packs on a hike; freeze your water and juice drinks and they will keep your food cool all morning. By lunchtime they should have thawed enough to enjoy a refreshing drink with your picnic and all you have to carry home is the empty containers! If you're planning a day at the beach, some cooler boxes have 12v refrigeration so will maintain a good low temperature with the occasional connection to a car battery!


5. Reduce the risk in the first place. The best option for the risky meat like chicken is to actually cook it through BEFORE you travel, this way the raw meat bacteria risk is removed altogether and the food will keep for much longer than it would have raw. You can also deal with the washing of hands and equipment somewhere with better facilities and thus don't have to bring/purify the extra water.

This pre-preparation can also be applied to the rest of the meals' ingredients for reducing weight and waste - why bring the whole onion along and have to peel and chop it in the wild when you can do that at home and leave the waste behind?

We have some great marinade recipes for chicken and fish to inject some awesome flavours while it cooks, simply finish off on the BBQ when you're ready to eat!


6. It's not always meat that's the risky item - root vegetables have been responsible in the past for E.Coli outbreaks due to it naturally occurring in soil which is why it is recommended to wash fruit, veg, and salad leaves thoroughly - not least because they may have also been sprayed with pesticides etc (read why we've gone Organic here).

Also be aware that certain allergens can cause severe reactions in some people which can turn into a medical emergency very quickly (again not something you want happening in the wilds!) so be aware of your group members' individual needs and keep risky items well separated or better still, remove them altogether.


I hope you found this article useful, let us know what you think in the comments below...


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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