Advice on safe food storage while camping

Scouter B.W.M. is concerned that his Scouts are careless in the way they handle food. He asked how to teach safe food-handling and dishwashing procedures.


We use a three-pronged approach. First, we supply small bottles of Purell or a similar alcohol-based sanitizer, especially when running water and soap are not available.

Second, we employ a division of labor. Unless a Scout needs to prepare the entire meal to satisfy an advancement requirement, each boy handles only his particular part of the menu. For instance: The boy handling the raw hamburger never touches the vegetables.

Third, and most important, we educate the boys on the symptoms of food poisoning, dysentery, and other related illnesses. After learning the consequences of eating dirty food, our boys watch one another with more vigilance than we adults could.

Batavia, N.Y.

When washing dishes, use the three-pan method. Wash in hot soapy water, rinse in hot clear water, and sanitize in cold water with a commercial sanitizer (not bleach) added. You only need a couple of ounces per wash. The key is to have plenty of hot water available, so start heating water before you eat.

Food storage is another risk zone. Consider separate ice chests for meat and poultry. Put all food inside sealed containers. Place these containers on inverted baskets inside the ice chest to prevent contamination from melted ice.

Los Osos, Calif.

When I taught Cooking merit badge, I always had someone from the local health department talk to the Scouts about camp sanitation. He kept the talk simple and was able to relate to the boys and their eating habits and cooking styles.

Former Scoutmaster R.B.
Pueblo, Colo.

All cold items must be kept below 40 degrees and hot items must be kept above 140 degrees (with the exception of proteins that have to be cooked to specific internal temperatures). Make sure you have an accurate thermometer and a current temperature chart; check with your health department for more information.

Venturer A.G. for Crew 136
Warwick, R.I.

Our troop raises money through festival food booths that must pass inspection by the local health department. Boys quickly learn the dangers of hazardous foods and proper techniques for dealing with them. Over time, they build a base of knowledge and experience.

Scoutmaster C.G.
DeKalb, Ill.

Scouts can’t prepare food safely without the proper equipment. After seeing one of our Scouts cutting up chicken on the already dirty surface of a wooden patrol box, I immediately invested in plastic cutting boards for all our patrols. We also sanitized the heck out of that patrol box!

Orem, Utah.

Cleanliness, coldness, and heat are the secrets to safe cooking. A digital, instant-read thermometer is mandatory equipment. A disinfectant emollient (e.g., Purell) must be handy and frequently used.

Nashport, Ohio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers extensive information on food safety, including posters from the “Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill” campaign. We printed these posters and pasted them inside our patrol boxes as a reminder about food safety.

Assistant Scoutmaster J.S.
El Paso, Tex.

The Boy Scout requirements for earning First and Second Class ranks cover safe food handling. Use troop meetings to teach proper techniques before you go on your next camp-out. Have a junior leader or an adult keep an eye on patrol food preparation during the next few camping trips.

Assistant Scoutmaster P.N.
Nottingham, Md.

As a registered nurse, I stress cross-contamination with the boys and the adults. We emphasize proper food handling, which is part of the Second Class and First Class requirements.

During food preparation, we have the boys wash their hands with soap and water. An adult leader or an older Scout keeps an eye on them.

Troop Committee Chairman M.R.
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Here’s a fun way to teach an important lesson. Have your Scouts wash their hands, then inspect them with a portable black light in a darkened room. The dirty parts (typically between their fingers and under any rings) will shine brightly under the black light.

Also, the BSA publishes a poster titled “Food Safety Cooking Chart” (No. 34310A). This resource can be used as a learning tool and placed in your camp kitchen area.

Louisville, Ky.

This is not directly related to food preparation, but it’s still very important. Every time you camp, be sure to set up a hand-washing station near the latrine. This can be a great camp gadget for requirement 7c of First Class.

Fill a two-liter bottle with water, poke a hole in it, and use a golf tee as a stopper. Put a bar of soap in an old nylon hose. Hang the bottle and hose on a tripod and set a pump bottle of hand sanitizer nearby for good measure.

Alexandria, Va.


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