Special Interests - Groups & Societies > The Pantry

Cook camp sanitation

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This is from a thread I started on the subject a couple of years ago, comments by other folks are indicated. 

Those folks who have seen me with my cook camp set up in person or have read my writings' both here and in "The Shootist" know that I strive to be as historically accurate as possible with my cooking.  One place where I tend to stray from Period Correctness is in food safety.

I added a new item to the cook camp this time and it will become a permanent part of the camp from now on.  This item comes under several brand names, but it is a jelled alcohol based hand "sanitizer."  This is the same thing Doctors and Nurses use between patients and is easy to find in any drug or grocery store. 

Camps are hard to keep your hands really clean in since most don't have a sink with hot running water, so this stuff is perfect and one can find somewhere to his it and a roll of paper towels out of sight.  I put it behind the wood pile last weekend at the end closest to the cooking and prep area.
One must remember food poisoning is a very period correct thing and killed many folks in the time period we strive to recreate, this is not an item I wish to recreate.
Unless you want to use paper plates and plastic silverware, which ruins to effect of a period cook camp, you are going to have dishes to do.  You will also have serving spoons, mixing bowls and other cooking gear that needs washed in soap and water, unlike the dutch ovens.

Hot water can be in short supply and that is what is needed.  I use one or two enamelware water bath canners; these hold about 3 gallons of water apiece.  I fill these with water and set them near the cook fire as soon as it's made and keep them filled till the fire goes out.  The radiant heat heats these up and keeps them hot and also gives you water right there at the fire in case it decides to go where it is not needed.

I have both several enamelware dishpans as well as to galvanized "Wreak Pans" of the clothes tub size.  I do the dishes in which ever is needed, the large ones for larger crowds.

The washing pan uses the most hot water, I make it as hot as what I do dishes in back home.  I use Dawn Dish soap because it is bio-degradable and much cheaper that the expensive camping stuff.  I keep this in a glass bottle with a cork.

The rinse water uses whatever else hot water is left after the washing water pan is filled and the rinse water get 2-3 drops of chlorine bleach in it for every gallon.  This meets food service approval for sanitizing and will work well even in cold water.  The bleach is kept in a small 1-pint stone jug with a cork.

Most of the time I just let everyone got through the line and wash and rinse his or her own "eatin' irons."  What is nice is that I also pile the cooking dishes near by and someone feels sorry for the poor overworked cook and does them also. 

The dishes can either be towel dried or air dried.  Also all my dishes are rewashed when I get home before being stored for the next trip. By using canned milk instead of fresh, one can keep the amount of items needed to be kept cold down quite a bit if one is doing baking that requires milk.  This is as period correct as keeping a cow in the camp and a lot more sanitary.  With a little careful planning one can keep the ice chest items down to just the fresh meat needed.  One can handle hiding this item in several ways, one could make a wooden ice chest with a galvanized lining and insulation, and this can duplicate the somewhat rare but period correct portable icebox. 

One can also build a period looking box to hide a modern ice chest, or one can often hide it in the brush a slight bit away from camp.  If one is doing events in the worst heat of summer, the modern chest is the way to go because they hold out the heat better when the temp. reaches 100 or more.

It is often a good idea to have a smaller ice chest that one can keep the items needed for the day in.  By using a bit of planning one can open the larger chest once a day, saving the cold in it.  One should put the meat for the last day on the bottom and the first day one top with the items for any other day in the middle in between.  For this big chest I freeze all the meat ahead of time and I use dry ice in the bottom.  Dry ice is of course colder than frozen water and does not leave a water mess to ruin ones food. 

As long as the meat stays frozen till it is removed from the large chest, the smaller chest often don't need and ice or dry ice.  One will also want to keep your butter, eggs and lard in the cool when the temps reach near 80. 

By careful planning of the menu one can keep the items that need to be kept cold down to just these few items.  The less items that can spoil, the less chance one will have of items spoiling.

Wishbone Said

“When just out camping with a bunch of friends, all of Us using Dutch Ovens to cook in. I keep a spray bottle of a 50/50 solution of bleach & water. I have another bottle of a 50/50 solution of vinegar & water. I spray all my ovens with each, one at a time & wipe them dry  with a towel, before I cook anything. The Bleach kills almost all Germs & the Vinegar will Kill the rest. My cooking partner went to Food Prep & Handling School in Joplin Mo a couple years ago and learned this. I know spray bottles are not "PC" but I'd still wipe my ovens out with a damp cloth with each.  When I get done cleaning my ovens after cooking & before putting them away I spray them out too. Del, I like the Bottle & Cork thing. Just my 2 cents.”    Wishbone

If one did not want to have to carry the spray bottles one could sanitize them as they were removed from storage as they we loaded.  The lids would keep most anything out of them as you travel.

One could also sanitize them as you were setting up and the bottles could be dropped out of sight in the brush or behind the woodpile.  Good idea pard.

One item that can be hard to clean up is the coffee pot, teakettle or any enamelware pans.  It isn't going to hurt anything if they build up soot over the years, but I like them clean when I start.

Some say to coat them with soap before using; it seems to help, but not that much.  What I have found that works well I keep at home for the putting back away clean up.  It is a heavy degreaser that comes in a spray bottle and smells a bit like oven cleaner, but it isn't as harsh.  It is called "Dawn Power Cleaner."

I turned my coffee pot and my tea kettle upside down in the sink, sprayed them and let them set about a 1/2 hour today, I had to do a little scrubbing with a pad, but they both came clean.

It also got rid of what was left of the coffee residue in the coffee pot.  I have three coffee pots, a blue 12-cup, a green 20-cup and a 32-cup white one.  I like the white one because it is very easy to see the residue in dim light before sunup, one can clean that pot that had a little coffee in it when you went to bed very easy that way.  Any one who likes good coffee knows it is important to have it as clean as possible when making a fresh pot.

Forty Rod Said:

Made a wood ice chest with the galvanized liner once. but cheated up a storm...the walls were hollow between the metal and the outside wood and rigged so you could slide a sheet of 3/4" closed cell Styrofoam in the space in all four sides, and in the bottom and lid, too.  Had to look twice to see the cheat at all.

Kept the water problem at bay by using plastic bags to hold the ice.”  Forty Rod

I've thought about doing that, but right now weight is my enemy, my pick-up is only a 1/2 ton. 

When I used to do day trips to the State Fair and just cooked for me and a couple of others, I'd freeze the meat after wrapping it in butcher paper and tying it with string.  In the morning it would go in to a zip lock bag and this would go into one of those paper bags they put ice cream in.  This would go into the saddlebags.  Even in 100 degree weather it would still be slightly frozen when I was ready to cook it about 12-1 pm. 

I would wait till I had a good crowd watching, I'd get the oven ready and go get it out of the saddle bags, but could reach in and get just the paper wrapped meat, no one would see the other bags.  I'd unwrap it and drop it in and start cooking.  Freaked a few folks out. 

Always Drink Upstream From The Herd.   Good advice but today there really is no upstream.  Water borne diseases are Period Correct; they were on of the great killers on the Overland Trails.

My favorite source for water in my camps is a hydrant hooked to a tested well.   I don't always get it, often the clean source can be a hundred yards or even a couple of miles.  The period correct way of course is the wooden barrel filled in camp.  These are heavy to move to fill and not 100% safe, if one ever gets contaminated they are hard to sanitize.  All water that is used in my camp for drinking and cooking comes out of my yellow Igloo Cooler or plastic Jerry cans.  I just cover them with a quilt or tarp.  They are sanitized before and after a trip with bleach.

Last weekend I was at Rock Creek Station and because of the Historical Status of the two road ranches, a well cannot be put there.  The well is a quarter mile away in the picnic area.  To keep the park staff from having to make several trips a day we use 3 Jerry cans and the Igloo for potable water and they have a water tank they use for watering trees and hauling water to other places they set up for us.  They also sanitize it before we use it but we put a note one it "Not For Human Consumption" and we use it for dishwater.  It is placed back behind my tent and the woodpile and is covered with a canvas tarp.

With a little effort one can keep the camp safe and hide any non-period items.

One item that can be a problem in the cook camp is leftovers.  Most often when we are doing period cook camps the weather is on the warm side and leftovers that are left out very long can spoil quickly.  the easiest of course is to throw them away.  I hate to waste food though and often there is someone shows up that needs to be fed.  Some items that won't suffer from over cooking can just have a few coals put on them and kept warm.  This will keep bacteria from growing. 

Since we have an ice chest with ice, the simplest for many items is modern but safer than food poisoning this of course is the modern sealable plastic bags.  Just put this in after it has cooled enough, two hours is what is recommend as maximum on food being left out, in hot weather I don't like it to go much over an hour.   This way it is easy to warm up stuff in the dutch oven for those late comers or those who need something to eat before bed.  This is often the cook because when it's hot and I've been cooking for hours I'm not always that hungry when the others eat.

Items like bread, I of course don't worry as much about, I just wrap them in a clean dishtowel and put it where insects can't get to it easily.

Since my subject is trying to keep a historic cook camp safe and as period looking as we can I'm going to cover something else that many have not thought about.   

We often use period or reproductions of period bottles and jars in our camps to keep stuff handy and period looking.   All glass bottles I use are reproductions, not originals.  The reason for this is that older glass can be somewhat porous and one really can not be sure of what was kept in that bottle in the past.  Many poisons could be bought over the counter; this was often stored in what ever bottle was handy.  A good example was my Grandmother kept DDT in a now collectable 7-Up bottle; she and several friends had bought a fairly large container and split it up.  One must not fear, that bottle will not end up in the collectors circuit, I took care of that about 15 years ago when I re-found it.

But how can you be sure others don't contain such a thing.  Also things like whiskey or vinegar will draw out stuff ordinary soap and water won't.  I've had discussions with others on this, not everyone I've met agree with my thinking, but I play a safe as I can.

Rowdy Fulcher:
Thanks for the helpful tips we will use them in Deer Camp .

I found another way of Cleaning Your Ovens & disinfecting cooking Tools. Everclear. The Alcohol will kill all germs & evorapte out & leave no taste. Use a Spray bottle.  Wishbone


Rowdy Fulcher:
I never thought much about using Everclear , but I bet it would work  . We always keep a bottle of Jim Beam for snake bites .
So far we have never lost a hunter from a snake bite .



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