Continuing from creating a light weight and usable cooking setup for the road, I thought it was important to talk about food safety.
There is almost nothing worse than being struck down with food poisoning. It is so much worse when you are in a foreign country and potentially sweating it out in a tent to boot. What would be even worse is if you inflicted that horror on yourself through your own cooking.
With that in mind, I have put together a guide of do’s and don’ts when it comes to keeping food safe and making sure your culinary adventures don’t turn into nightmares.
What Makes us Sick?
The subject of food poisoning is a complex one, however if we take a relatively simplistic approach, you can safely say that when you are struck down with a food borne illness, it is due to a bacteria or virus that have grown to numbers that can make us sick. They do this through the production of poisons, either in the food we consume or in our intestines once we have ingested the infected food.
Not all bugs are bad. In fact, bacteria play a significant role in creating some of our favourite foods: cheese, bread, chocolate, and beer. None of these products would be possible without the work of bacteria.
The trick is in understanding how the bad bacteria work and how to control that risk. The greatest risk, especially when traveling, is with perishable foods. These foods have the potential for pathogens to grow very rapidly and create toxins. This can make you feel like death for several days as your body works to eliminate them.
Virus infection of foods is incredibly common, however the understanding of how they work is still relatively poor. Viruses work in a very different way to bacteria, and they can cause illness many weeks after the infected food is eaten. Unfortunately, medicine is ineffective against food borne virus illnesses. You need to allow your body time to fight the infection and recover.
I have Food Poisoning, What Should I Do?
The dreaded combination of violent diarrhoea and vomiting is possibly one of the worst experiences any of us can endure when on the road. Unfortunately, the best thing you can do if you are struck down with food poisoning is endure the process. It is your body’s natural defence system at work, and it is best to let it happen. The instinct to reach for the Imodium is strong and rightly so. No one likes the idea of being tied to the toilet, however the best thing you can do is get it out. If you must travel, of course take the necessary medication. However in the first 24 hours if possible let your body do its thing. The same goes for vomiting. Yes, it is unpleasant but once again it is your body eliminating the toxins and restricting this process will only prolong the illness.
Once you have passed everything that is in your system, you can then look to control your vomiting and diarrhoea through over the counter medications to lessen your symptoms. Once you can hold down fluids, you need to re-hydrate. The biggest risk with food poisoning is dehydration. Sip small amounts of water or an electrolyte drink to replace the lost salts and minerals.
Unfortunately, there is little a doctor can do in cases of food poisoning unless you do become dehydrated. If you have been consistently unable to keep fluids down for more than 24 hours, it is advisable to seek medical attention.
Perishable versus non-perishable:
Perishable foods are anything that will spoil rapidly, usually without refrigeration. They also have the potential to make us sick. They are perishable due to their high water and rich nutrient content for bacteria to live on. They are basically breeding grounds for pathogens (bugs that make us sick) and should be handled with great care. Foods that fit into this category can be found around the perimeter of the supermarket. Fresh produce, chilled meats, seafood, and dairy.
Non-Perishable foods are found in the centre aisles of the supermarket. They are generally low in water content making it difficult for bacteria to survive and grow, or have been treated to reduce the risk of growth. This category can be looked at as long-life or shelf stable and are ideal for long storage without refrigeration.
How to Keep Food Safely
In the food industry, a widely researched and accepted method of understanding the limits of perishable foods outside of refrigeration, is the 2 hour/4 hour rule.
If you purchase a perishable item and plan to eat it later, it requires refrigeration within 2 hours. This time is generally insufficient for the bacteria present to become overly active and start to reproduce to dangerous numbers.
If you have purchased perishable food and it has been outside of refrigeration for more than 2 hours but less than 4, it is safe to eat but must not be refrigerated for later use. This rule is most relevant for those travelling and purchasing perishable food items. Trying to buy your fresh meat or other perishable ingredients within 4 hours of cooking is an acceptable method to ensure you will not create an environment favourable to harmful growth, thus making you sick.
**It is important to note that in extreme heat to cut both of those time frames in half. Bacterial growth is heavily dependant on temperature. The higher the environmental temperature, the quicker they can grow to harmful numbers.
I will be writing a separate article specifically as a reference for the types of food that store well and can be used as a basis for meals on the road. Stay tuned!
If you want to follow my camp cooking adventures, you can find me here: @moto_bites