Four-wheeling presents a host of challenges in any environment. Drivers naturally focus on terrain and techniques. Therefore at the end of long day, food safety and hygiene don’t always get the attention they’re due. Let’s review some basics.
Safe food handling and storage
Keeping food chilled properly can be a real chore. A long trip to a remote destination during hot weather puts a strain on any cooler. Eggs, milk and raw meat, in particular, must be kept chilled. A cooler is OK for a day or two, but you’re better off buying a 12 volt on board refrigerator/freezer. I have used one for many years, and highly recommend it. They’re not cheap — good ones run $800 - $1,000 — but the convenience and peace of mind they provide is worth it. Make sure you buy a top model. Reliable brands to consider include ARB, Engel and SportFridge. A good 12 volt fridge/freezer is compact, energy efficient, and easy on your battery. Energy consumption varies, but they typically draw about 2 or 3 amps. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. You could get by for at least a day or more without charging your battery. Remember that the fridge draws power only when it’s cycling. You can minimize cycling by parking in shaded areas when possible and limiting your access to the fridge. Night time is easier on the unit. It’s naturally cooler, and the fridge doesn’t get opened as frequently. Even though the fridge/freezer runs efficiently, it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan. You could install a second battery—to run the fridge/freezer—or pick up a Micro-Start personal power supply. Though small, the Micro-Start packs a punch, and will jump start your engine.
Camping cooler still an option
If you decide to use a camping cooler, you can take a few steps to lengthen the life of your ice and food. First, freeze the meat (and anything else you can) in advance. Frozen food naturally takes longer to thaw, but it also offers its only chilling power. Chill the cooler prior to leaving. Ice it down a few days before you leave. Then dump out the ice and water and pack it with your provisions and fresh ice. Dry ice is also an option, but placement becomes the issue. To keep the item frozen solid, place the dry ice underneath the food. If you just want to chill the food, place the dry ice on top. Do not place the food directly in contact with the dry ice.
Safe campfire cooking
The main thing to remember about cooking outdoors—and indoors, for that matter—is to cook the food thoroughly. This is especially true for pork and chicken. (Beef has more leeway, though hamburger should be cooked thoroughly.) Trichinosis (from pork) and salmonella (chicken) are nasty enough if they hit while you’re at home. It’s a whole ‘nuther ballgame when you’re out in the boonies. Camp cooking requires extra attention because you have to watch the coals (embers). Chicken and large cuts of meat take extra time. Your coals may die down too soon, and if the campers are especially hungry, are likely to pull the meat prematurely. You’ve got to be patient. Watch your fire, and add wood throughout. You need a good bed of coals to maintain the proper temperature during cooking. If you don’t have the patience or time, find something else to eat.
Cleanup and basic hygiene
Proper hand washing is a challenge while off road. It’s important to bring soap and water. For larger groups, the Wishy-Washer hand Washer station is nice. It’s comprised of two containers and a foot pump. One container holds fresh water, and the other is a bucket for the waste water. You can also fill up a spare water container that has a spigot, and set it sideways on a tailgate or table. Have a bottle of liquid soap and paper towels nearby. If you’re pinched for space, a spray bottle filled with soapy water works well. Before gathering to eat, make sure everyone washes their hands. And, of course, the cook(s) must always wash thoroughly before preparing food and after handling raw meat. Hand sanitizers are really popular today. Unfortunately, the alcohol dries out the skin. Remember that you’re often operating in harsh, dry conditions. The alcohol just makes matters worse. Stick with soap and water. Another part of sanitation is dishwashing. Use hot, soapy water to wash the dishes. You should use two wash basins: one to wash and the other to rinse. I prefer using hot water for rinsing, but cold water is fine. Just make sure to rinse thoroughly. Soap can cause nasty stomach problems. I generally let my dishes air dry. An onion bag comes in handy for that purpose. While we’re talking about washing dishes, it’s a good time to discuss how to dispose of your dishwater. Most people just toss it on the ground. Don’t. The food particles attract critters and birds. That can be a real problem in high-traffic areas. Strain your dishwater in a large coffee filter. You can dump the water, but toss the filter into your garbage bag. Just as you wouldn’t leave human waste behind, don’t scatter your food waste. Leave the campsite in at least as good of shape as it was when you arrived. If you’d like to go one step further, consider using environmentally friendly soaps. One example is Campsuds by Sierra Dawn. This biodegradable, multi-purpose cleaner was designed for campers and other outdoors enthusiasts. It can clean dishes, hands, hair, and just about anything that’s washable. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” as the old saying goes. An “ounce” of planning, patience and effort can prevent the need for cures while you’re four wheeling. Follow these suggestions, and your weekend won’t be spoiled by avoidable issues.
Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit www.4x4training.com to develop or improve your driving skill. Copyright 2015, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.