How To Prevent Food Cross-Contamination on Adventure Trips

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A great, but often unstated, benefit to a self-guided adventure trip is that you have total control over your food.

At the same time, if you are traveling with those who do not share your food allergies, there are strategies you can employ to significantly minimize the chance of cross-contamination.

Typically there are two places cross-contamination can happen:

  1. When packing and transporting food
  2. When preparing food

Minimizing cross-contamination when packing and transporting food

The technique that we have used is to use color coded stuff sacks to carry food, and assign a specific color to the food sack of the person who has food allergies. This ensures that the special food items do not come into contact with any other type of food.

In addition, we make sure that it is a ‘dry sack’, which typically means that they are water-resistant.

This ensures that in the event of rain or stream crossings which may result in the exposure to water, your food is not affected. Dry sacks cost a bit more, but we have always considered it a worthwhile investment.

The cooking sets and kitchen utensils that we use are also color coded. Most backpacking cooking sets that services two people are color coded. So we are simply leveraging something that already exists.

Minimizing cross-contamination when preparing food

We do make sure when we are cooking common items, we cook in the shared pot only those items that can be safely eaten by everyone in the party. Additional items that may not be safe for the person with allergies are not added to the common pot.

For example, when my son and I went backpacking in Shenandoah National Park, for dinner we made a basic rice dish in the common pot and then transferred that to our individual eating bowls to add the personal protein and condiments of choice.

This does mean that planning becomes important in how the cooking is staged, but this is something that is very familiar to those with food allergies.

While carrying dedicated cooking equipment is always an option, it does add to the pack weight. Having dedicated equipment may not be an issue if the parties are sufficiently large, since you can split the items across all the people.

If you have only two people in the party, a better option may be to address the weight issue by planning your food items.

The key take-away is that, packing and preparing food for an adventure trip is very similar to how we pack and prepare food in day to day life. In both circumstances, it requires planning and preparation to have a successful outcome.

SafeBites » Travel

Traveling abroad, especially to places where English is not the native language is a challenge for those with food allergies. Recommended preparation includes researching the local diet, getting a medic-alert bracelet and multilingual wallet cards and, calling on multilingual friends for help translating your needs and enlisting the help of fellow travelers.

We recently traveled to Niagara Falls via Southwest airlines and continue to be impressed with their consideration for travelers with food allergies (no serving peanuts, pre-boarding to wipe the seats down etc.). Contrast that to this story about American Airlines.

Once you touch down, it is all about the walking - but did you know you can improve how you walk? Of course, it also helps that if you are carrying a load while walking, you properly size and fit your backpack.

SafeBites » Food

Three things to keep in mind when packing food for backpacking are (1) have some variety (2) pay attention to calorie density and (3) hydrate. That advice applies whether or not you are managing allergies or not.

Knowing the shelf-life of foods, especially since you don't have refrigeration in the backcountry, is helpful in planning your meals.

SafeBites » Gear

The Veta Smartcase for an EpiPen has a temperature sensor which could turn out to be very handy when being carried over multiple days in the backcountry. Still in the pre-order stage, so information such as battery life etc. are still unknown.

Speaking of color coded stuff sacks and cooking sets, we like and use the Outdoor Products 3-Pack dry sacks and a GSI Outdoors MicroDualist Cookset. Both have served us well over multiple trips.

Hope you enjoyed this journal entry...

Anil John
Founder and Curator

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