Eating outdoors

Barbeques, picnics, camping, hiking, fishing and boating are a great way to have fun and be adventurous outdoors with family and friends.  However, eating outdoors can present opportunities for food poisoning if you are not careful about food safety.


Undertaking activities outdoors can involve makeshift situations where the comforts and conveniences of home are not always available. Planning can minimise the risk of getting food poisoning. When planning meals, think about:

  • choosing the type of food you take
  • how you can keep food cold or hot and protect it from the environment, insects, pests and animals
  • if water is available for washing hands and utensils.

The foods you choose will depend on the type of storage you have available, how much you can carry, who is attending and whether suitable water is available.

Potentially hazardous foods

Harmful (food poisoning) bacteria grow more easily in and on some foods than others.  Potentially hazardous foods to be avoided when outdoors include:

  • raw and cooked meat (including hams, salami, chicken and turkey) or foods containing meat e.g. casseroles, curries and lasagne
  • dairy products, e.g. milk, custard and dairy based desserts
  • seafood
  • processed fruits and vegetables, e.g. prepared salads, coleslaws and rice salads
  • cooked rice and pasta
  • foods containing eggs, beans, nuts or other protein rich foods, such as quiche and soy products
  • foods that contain these foods, such as sandwiches and rolls.

Safer options include:

  • sandwiches with fillings such as hard cheeses, pickles and some spreads (e.g. Vegemite or honey)
  • canned meat or fish
  • whole (uncut) fruit and vegetables

Food storage

The temperature of food and the time it is in the temperature danger zone (between 5°C and 60°C ) is key.

The use of potentially hazardous foods should be kept to a minimum unless the food can be kept cold (5°C or lower) or hot (60°C or higher). If taking high risk foods, make sure they are eaten as soon as possible. Throw out any left overs particularly on hot days.

Remember: If in doubt, throw it out!

Make sure all foods are adequately wrapped or stored in leak-proof containers to prevent spoilage and contamination.

Do not allow cooked and raw foods to come into contact with each other.

Use plenty of ice or cold packs around the food and keep eskies closed as much as possible to avoid temperature loss.

If cooked foods, fruits and salad ingredients are stored in the same esky with raw foods, ensure they are stored above raw foods and are wrapped and protected to prevent juices from coming into contact with other foods.

Use separate eskies for the storage of raw food and other foods and drinks if possible to reduce the risk of contamination.

Do not use eskies intended to hold food for human consumption for the storage of fish bait.

Be extra careful with the handling and storage of caught seafood.  Seafood quality diminishes as soon as it leaves the water. Ice the fish as soon as possible after catching.

Food handling, preparation and cleaning

Wash, cut, and prepare as much food as possible before leaving home to reduce the need to handle food when outdoors.

If raw food such as fruits and salads are stored in an esky with raw meat, make sure the are thoroughly washed before eating.

Make sure food is already cold before placing it in the esky.

If you need to cool down hot food, place it in the fridge after it has stopped steaming before placing into the esky.

Ensure eskies and other food storage are regularly cleaned and sanitised (weak chlorine solution) especially after emptying out melted ice water. Leave them to air dry to prevent mould.

If transporting hot food, make sure it is steaming hot when you leave home and eaten as soon as possible. Any hot food not eaten in 4 hours should be thrown out.

When cooking sausages, hamburger patties and chicken, ensure they are cooked right through.  The only way to ensure that meats are adequately cooked is to use a probe thermometer.

Don’t place cooked food on plates which have been used for raw products.

Hand washing

Our health is in our hands and washing hands is especially important before eating when outdoors.

It is best to use soap, running water and disposable paper towels when washing your hands. Where suitable water is not available, use antibacterial gels or disposable wipes.

Safe water supply

A safe water supply is important when outdoors for:

  • drinking
  • preparing and cooking food
  • washing up
  • handwashing and bathing.

Where you are unsure about the water supply, it is best to take enough of your own (eg. town or bottled water) for the duration of your stay.

Only if necessary, should you treat water. Use bottled, boiled or treated water – in that order of preference.

Always obtain water from the least contaminated source (clear, running water is best).

Filter cloudy water through a clean cloth or allow it to settle and then pour off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water vigorously for 1 minute (or 3 minutes if water is very cloudy (turbid)) then leave it to cool and store in a clean, covered container.  Boiling will ensure water is safe from most types of harmful bugs but will not remove chemical contaminants.

Only if water cannot be boiled, treat it with chlorine or iodine tablets. Follow the manufacturer’s directions with the tablets. It should be noted that this form of water treatment may not kill all the bugs and won’t remove chemical contaminants.

Other hints

Dispose of melted ice water in eskies.  Do not use for drinking, washing of food or utensils as it may be contaminated especially if it contains blood from thawed meat or seafood.

Do not use ice from the esky to ice drinks as the ice may be contaminated. Ice intended for drinks should be stored separate and protected from contamination.

Minimise direct hand contact with ice in drinks.

Thoroughly heat and clean BBQ plates and ensure dining areas are cleaned before use.