One of the great pastimes of all time has to be the camping holiday. So many of us work at the same old job day in and day out going through the same old routines time and time again. We long for the day when we can hang up that apron, pack everything we need into a back pack and head out onto the open road. At least some of us do.
Camping holidays vary greatly. To some camping may be sleeping rough next to the camp fire with only the stars for a roof. To others camping may be a luxury safari in Kenya where everything is meticulously planned right down to the champagne on ice and after eight mint on the pillow. Whatever our dream camping holiday may be, we should remember that we are no longer in our natural environment. We can no longer say that we are entirely suited to living out in the open. The days when our distant ancestors were hunter gatherers are long gone and the level of natural immunity that they possessed we can only wish for.
When we are in an outdoor environment for an extended period of time we need to keep in mind that we take care of all of our needs in the same environment whereas in our homes we have created separate environments to cater for our various needs. When we are in the outdoor environment we actually have very limited control over it. The quality of water in a natural environment is what it is. We can do nothing to change it nor can we do much to deter insect vectors such as flies, ants, ticks and leeches, for example.
The only way we can control the effect that the environment has on us is to control the way we organize ourselves within it. The most important logistical problem that we face from a food hygiene aspect is the problem of water. We must have a safe source of water. The second most important problem that we face is having safe food to eat and the third most important problem that we have to contend with is how to take care of our personal hygiene needs without contaminating the area in which we have to live. Ideally these should be three separate areas. This will reduce the risks of cross contamination.
On a camping trip we may have only one source of water which we have to use for purposes of hygiene, cooking and drinking. This presents a challenge which needs to be addressed. Indeed, a great many cases of serious food and water poisoning originate on camping trips. I can vouch for this personally.
The four golden rule of food hygiene apply as much outdoors as they do indoors. Lets take a look at the four rules and see how to apply them successfully in the camp site scenario.
Rule 1. Buy food from a safe source.
In the camp site this means take food that will not perish. Sterilized packs of food can be bought in specialist outdoors shops which are identical to those used by special forces. Failing that take dried foods and foods that have been packed in small tin cans, tubes, concentrates etc. Avoid taking fresh meats and fish at all costs. Even cooked meat will have a very limited life and can only be taken into account as a packed lunch for the first day to be eaten within four hours of setting off. Fruit such as apples can be taken for several days provided they are washed properly, dried and wrapped in a plastic bag in individual portions. Eggs should be avoided also unless you can get them fresh on your trip. Boil them for no less than 10 minutes. Likewise some hard vegetables such as carrots can be taken for the first couple of days. Again it is best to peel them, wash them thoroughly, dry them and wrap them hermetically in a plastic bag. Do not eat local food on trips unless you are absolutely sure that the source is safe. If you are unsure about a water source it is better to drink fresh milk than drink the water. If you catch dysentery you may well loose more water than you can intake.
Rule 2.Prevent bacteria from entering your food.
Again, by having your food closed in hermetically sealed wrapping the possibility of contamination is greatly reduced. Do not open more than you need for each meal. Do not mix food which has been opened with closed food. Do not leave food for long periods unattended. Either eat it or cook it. Preferably cook it. When handling foods make sure that you are clean, particularly hands and nails. Do not use knives that have been used for any other purpose other than for food. Clean them thoroughly before use as well as after use. Likewise, clean your bowls, plates, cups, knives and forks before eating and drinking as well as directly after the meal. Once clean I recommend putting them into a clean plastic bag to avoid contamination while on the trail. Use only clean water for cooking. If you are unsure of the water source and you have no other use a camp carbon filtration system or use chlorine water purification tablets. The water won’t taste great but it will make it drinkable provided there are no chemical contaminates in it.
Rule 3. Prevent the multiplication of bacteria in your food.
As you may have no way of keeping your cold food at a correct cold temperature it is always wise to eat all your food hot. Don’t leave food laying around. If your food source is all but sterile to begin with you won’t have many worries about the multiplication of bacteria in your food. The secret is to open it and eat it or heat it up and eat it as soon as possible. By that I mean within twenty minutes of being cooked. With a bit of correct organization and compromise on five star cuisine one can all but eliminate this stage.
Rule 4. Destroy bacteria on utensils and work surfaces.
Once again prior organization is the order of the day. Always take some washing up liquid and Lysol or dettol hygiene spray or wipes. Wash all work surfaces thoroughly with soap and rinse with water followed by spraying it with Lysol spray or wiping with an anti bacterial wipe. Do this before and after use. As previously stated wash all eating utensils before and after use. After use spray or wipe with an anti bacterial product and wrap in a clean plastic bag. Seal it as hermetically as possible. Discard the plastic bag after opening it for the next use. Old wrapping should be collected in a trash bag and taken home with you.
Keep your dirty clothing as far away as possible from your eating utensils and food. Make a field toilet at least fifty paces away from your camp site. Even if this is a hole in the ground make sure that you cover your excretions with some of the soil or sand that you have dug from the hole. If you have it pour a little chemical sanitizer onto the soil to deter flies. Avoid camping where others have defecated in the open. Scour the area before choosing the location. Do not wash and brush your teeth in the same area that you go to the toilet or eat. Choose a place suitable for this. If you cant wash as well as you would like use hygienic wipes. Particularly use them after washing your hands after visiting the toilet.
Many people like to entertain the notion that one is allowed to be a bit more lax on a camping holiday. This is the pitfall that causes so many people to fall terribly ill when camping. Nothing could be further from the truth. A healthy and successful camping trip requires quite a high level of forethought, prior organization and planning and an appropriate level of self discipline without ruining the holiday by being overly fanatical and obsessive. This is not what I am advocating. If performed systematically all of my suggestions should take no more than a few minutes of your time around mealtimes and safeguard you against several unpleasant days in hospital and a lifetime’s bad memory.