Summer food safety: Tips for your travels

Pack food safely for vacations on the road in accordance with USDA Food Inspection Service recommendations.

It’s time for that long awaited vacation when we eagerly get away from school and work. We hit the road in cars, recreational vehicles; live on boats; relax in vacation homes and camp. No matter where we go, a common thread of summer travels and relaxation is food!

The road to food safety, however, can either be bumpy or smooth — depending on what precautions are taken handling meals as we travel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service Meat and Poultry Hotline reminds everyone that some simple, common-sense food safety rules can save a vacation from disaster. Here are some general rules for keeping food safe when traveling.

Plan ahead
If you travel with perishable foods, place them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs. If carrying drinks, consider packing them in a separate cooler so the food cooler is not opened frequently. Have plenty of ice or frozen gel-packs on hand before starting to pack food. If you take perishable foods along (meat, poultry and salads) for eating on the road or to cook at your vacation spot, plan to keep everything on ice in your cooler.

Pack safely
Pack perishable foods directly from refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Meat and poultry may be packed while it is frozen; that way it stays colder longer. Also, a full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer.

Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped and in the bottom of the cooler. Keep them separate from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruit and vegetables. If possible, house raw meat and poultry in a separate cooler.

If the cooler is only partially filled, pack remaining space with more ice. For long trips to the shore take along two coolers — one for the day’s immediate food needs, such as lunch, and the other for drinks. Limit the times the cooler is opened.

Food safety at the beach or while boating
When boating on vacation, or out for the day, make sure the all-important cooler is along. Don’t let perishable food sit out while swimming, boating or fishing. Remember, food sitting out for more than 2 hours is not safe. The time frame is reduced to just 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 °F.

Now, about that "catch" of fish — assuming the big one didn’t get away. For fin fish: scale, gut and clean the fish as soon as caught. Wrap both whole and cleaned fish in water-tight plastic, store on ice. Keep three to four inches of ice on bottom of your cooler, alternating layers of fish and ice. Cook fish in one to two days, or freeze. After cooking, eat within three to four days. Make sure raw fish stays separate from cooked foods. Bring along disposable moist towelettes for cleaning hands or hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.

Following this advice could make the difference between a vacation to remember and one that is remembered because people got sick from improperly handled food.

For more information on summer food safety, visit these links:

Keep your summer food gatherings fun and safe

Six food safety tips when grilling

Handle graduation party buffets safely

Seven super steps to safe food in the summer

Seasonal food safety fact sheets

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