Stay Cool on the Hiking Trail

Stay Cool on the Hiking Trail

May 31, 2017

By: Nirav Shah, MBA, MPH, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

If the warmer temperature draws you outdoors for a brisk hike through the mountains or even your local park, be sure to stay cool on the hiking trail. Every hiker understands the importance of fueling their bodies while climbing through rugged terrain, but keep in mind that food, if not properly handled, could make you sick.   

Before setting out for your hike, be sure to pack nonperishables like trail mix, energy bars, and granola bars. Chilled foods like chicken and tuna salad or sandwiches can be transported safely in a backpack with a cold source. Frozen gel packs and water bottles make a great cold source. The water will thaw as you hike, providing refreshing drinks while keeping your meal cold at the same time.

For an overnight camping trip, perishable foods, like luncheon meats, sandwiches, cooked poultry and potato or pasta salads, should be kept in an ice cooler.

As always, hikers should follow the four steps to food safety when preparing dishes outdoors.

Clean: On the camping trip, make sure to pack clean paper towels, water, and soap for cleaning surfaces and your hands. Disposable moist towelettes also work well.

Separate: When taking food off of the grill, use a clean plate. Don’t put cooked food or foods eaten raw on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate them.

Cook: Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of burgers, steaks, chicken and foods containing meat, poultry and egg dishes.

  • Hamburgers, sausages and other ground meats should reach 160°F (71°C).
  • All poultry should reach a minimum temperature of 165°F (74°C).
  • Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef should be cooked to 145°F (63°C) as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, and allowed to rest for three minutes before eating.
  • Fish should be cooked to 145°F (63°C).
  • Cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

Chill: Place leftovers in shallow containers and store them in a cooler immediately. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of 40°F – 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.  The range is often called the “Danger Zone”. Discard food left in the Danger Zone for more than two hours. When the outside temperature is 90°F or above this time reduces to just one hour. Remember, if the food is not handled correctly, foodborne illness can be an unwelcome visitor.