By Bob Difley
Developed nations such as the USA and Canada have strict laws governing the handling of food from the pickers in the fields through the processors to the canners or baggers. Handling of livestock is also controlled and inspected from the time it leaves the ranch or feeding pens until it ends up in the meat counter or in plastic wrap in the supermarket. But as you all too often read in the news, food bugs (not the kind you can see) still get by the most stringent inspections and into our foods.
While most of us are familiar with and have confidence in our local food suppliers, we unfortunately can’t tell when foods contain something that will make us sick. Whether you purchase food from a major supermarket supplied by big agribusiness producers or from the back of a farmer’s truck at a local farmers’ market you can’t tell what pathogens might sneak through.
Boondockers must be especially careful in the handling and storing of fresh foods when stocking up before a trip, some of it hidden from view until discovered when the storage area empties out, often having been subjected to a wide fluctuation between heat and cold. We also often keep foods beyond the safe date since if we’re camped out in the boonies we can’t just pop down to the market to replace questionable items—and we are often a distance from medical care as well if we do get food poisoning.
We also might be a bit stingy in using wash and rinse water on dinnerware and cooking utensils because of our limited fresh water supply and waste tank capacity. Boondockers especially should take extra precaution in food storage, food preparation, and clean up. Follow these tips from food safety experts.
• USE PASTEURIZED EGGS If you are not willing to give up soft-boiled eggs or unbaked cookie dough, or you are using a recipe that calls for raw or partly cooked eggs.
• WASH ALL PRODUCE Even if you are going to peel the skin, give it a good scrub so you don’t transfer bacteria from the knife or peeler to the part you are going to eat. Most important, wash all lettuce, even if it comes in a bag that says triple washed.
• LEARN TO LOVE WELL DONE Cooking thoroughly is the best way to eliminate harmful bacteria from meats and poultry. Use a meat thermometer.
• THE RIGHT CUTTING BOARDS Always prepare raw meats and poultry on one cutting board, and use another for vegetables. Clean both with warm soapy water after each use. Whether you use wood or plastic cutting boards, the important thing is to keep boards clean and replace them when they become scored because pathogens can hide in the grooves.
• UNDERSTAND ‘ORGANIC’ Organic means grown without pesticides, it has nothing to do with bacteria and other pathogens. However, there is something reassuring about buying from a small organic farmer at a local stand or farmers’ market. Even so, remember that you need to handle anything organic–meat, fruit, poultry, produce–the same as non-organic. You should still keep meats and vegetables separate to avoid cross-contamination, wash all produce thoroughly and wash platters and other surfaces that come into contact with raw meat and poultry.
• BE SMART ABOUT LEFTOVERS Keeping food too long can pose a risk. You can’t smell, see, or taste the bacteria that causes illness.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest also points out:
• Don’t leave food out longer than two hours, and use or freeze all leftovers within four days.
• To avoid throwing out food (and wasting money), plan your trip’s menu and shopping list with leftovers in mind, i.e. roast chicken one day, chicken salad sandwiches the next, to make sure leftovers get used quickly.
• Finally, since many of us fit the definition of “elderly” (even if we disagree with it), the Center says, “The elderly are often likely to keep food too long. But they are more at risk of getting seriously ill from tainted food.”
For more RVing and boondocking tips, visit my Healthy RV Lifestyle website and also check my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (click here for Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).