Food Safety at Camp

Campers and their families expect the food they are served at camp to be safe to eat. Yet foodborne illness is surprisingly common and can have serious consequences. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Five basic steps can help to minimize the risk of foodborne illness at camp.

Step 1: Clean Foods and Cooking Surfaces

Follow the three main steps of cleaning to prepare for a meal:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Clean working and preparation surfaces with hot water and soap before and between preparing each food item.

  • Rinse produce to remove any harmful residual chemicals or bacteria.

Step 2: Separate Foods to Prevent Cross Contamination

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (“FARE”), every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department. That is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year. Follow these food separation steps to prevent foodborne illness and allergic reactions:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods.

  • Use separate cutting boards, wrapping materials, plates and utensils - clean these between use for each food type.

  • When marinating meats, do not re-use liquids such as marinades on cooked foods.

Step 3: Cook Foods to Safe Temperatures

Cooking food is a matter of temperature. Foods need to reach an internal temperature high enough to kill bacteria that can cause foodborne bacteria and illness such as Salmonella, E. coli, Norovirus and Listeria. Consider the following while cooking to prevent the spread of illness:

  • Color is not a reliable indicator of safety - always check internal temperatures with a food thermometer to determine if the food is cooked.

  • Clean food thermometers with hot water and soap after each use.

  • Follow suggested guidelines for safe minimum cooking temperatures, which varies by the type of food being cooked:

Step 4: Hold Food at Safe Temperatures - Avoid the Danger Zone

According to the USDA, bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40° and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. Prevent the growth of bacteria and keep your people healthy by following these tips:

  • Never leave cold foods out of refrigeration for over two hours.

  • Warm and stir the food at regular intervals as this will help distribute heat evenly throughout the food.

  • Discard any perishables left out at room temperature for more than two hours unless you’re keeping it hot or cold.

Step 5: Chill Food

According the Go 40 Degrees or Below campaign, 50-65% of consumers thaw raw meat, fish or poultry incorrectly; i.e., at room temperature and/or in stagnant water. Follow the three main steps of food chilling:

  • Keep refrigerators at 40 degrees or below - be aware, however, that temperatures below 32 degrees can lead to ice crystals which reduce food quality.

  • Refrigerate food within two hours of purchase or use.

  • Thaw foods properly in the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave - do not thaw foods at room temperature.

Following these five basic steps can help reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses at your camp.


We’re here to help! For additional questions, contact Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Risk Control Central.

The information contained in this article is intended solely to provide general guidance on topics that may be of interest to you. While we have made reasonable efforts to present accurate and reliable information, Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. disclaims all liability for any errors or omissions, or for any actions you take or fail to take based on this article. The information provided may not apply to your particular facts or circumstances; therefore, you should seek professional advice prior to relying on any information that may be found in this article.

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Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. (a stock insurer)
P.O. Box 357 | 3000 Schuster Lane | Merrill, WI 54452-0357
Telephone (800) 554-2642 or (715) 536-5577

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Church Mutual is a stock insurer whose policyholders are members of the parent mutual holding company formed on 1/1/20. S.I. = a stock insurer.