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I have a 5 day hike in a national park in Chile. I was wondering if it's safe for me to cook/grill chicken breast or a steak before entering the park, put it in a Ziploc bag and consume it the day after or maybe the next after that.

I don't like the idea of doing that with uncooked meat, but somehow, the idea of pre-cooking the meat before the hike does not seem dangerous.

Any advice in the matter?

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    What's the point of taking this risk when there are enough no-meat alternatives you can bring along? – henning Feb 25 at 10:40
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    I've been food-sick while hiking twice. It is not pleasant and not having a warm bed to crawl into to recover or a toilet handy is especially problematic. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Feb 25 at 18:08
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    Consider sticking to cured meats : bacon, ham, kippers, jerky, where the curing extends the safe life to a certain extent. And cans for meat beyond that time. – user_1818839 Feb 26 at 13:04
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    Are you travelling alone or with a group? Consider how you would care for yourself alone with food poisoning, or how you would mess up the whole trip for everyone else in the group. Or would you depend on the kind-heartedness of a passing random traveller, especially in this Covid19 world ? – Criggie Feb 27 at 1:18
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    Can you be more specific about the temperature range you'll be in? "In Chile" is quite broad, given the variety of geography and different times of year. – Toby Speight Feb 27 at 16:41

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I strongly recommend you don't follow the plan you outlined, bringing cold cooked meat along on your hike to eat after a day or two. You almost certainly can not achieve this while following food safety guidelines. Sometimes you get away with taking risks with food safety. Other times you will make yourself extremely ill. In the case of a multi-day wilderness hike, the worst possible consequences of severe illness are much worse than in the safety of civilization. In a worst case scenario, you could have severe diarrhea and vomiting, which causes dehydration, which makes you weak, shaky and dizzy. Now imagine trying to hike all the way back to the trailhead in this weakened state, while also having to stop frequently to again vomit and/or defecate. Or trying to call for emergency evacuation, which may or may not be possible due to limited phone service, and then wait how ever many hours for emergency assistance to reach you.

There are a few things you could do to improve your plan and make it less risky. Whether you can actually stay within food safety guidelines is impossible to determine without knowing all the details and doing some tests (more on that below). But you will certainly be safer if you take some of the precautions below, than if you follow your original plan of eating unrefrigerated meat.

  • Look up the predicted temperature range for the time and place of your hike. This will have a huge effect on how long it takes meat to spoil. If it's going to be hot summer weather, I wouldn't try it. If it will be cool spring / fall temperatures, I suggest doing a test run, as described below. In cold winter weather, you have a pretty decent chance of keeping your food safe, although I might still do a test run for safety. If the temperature won't get above 40° F / 4.4° C, frozen meat should stay safe as long as you don't store your food bag in the sun, next to the fire, or in your tent with you overnight.

  • Unless it's below freezing all day, forget about the "or two" part of "a day or two." One day is possible. Two days is asking for food poisoning.

  • Fully cook the meat ahead of time. That means no rare steaks (it wouldn't be rare anymore by the time you reheated it, so not too much of a loss there).

  • Freeze the cooked meat. Frozen meat will take longer to warm up to "danger zone" temperatures than unfrozen meat.

    With frozen meat, you need a plan for how you will safely thaw the frozen meat if it's still frozen at the time you plan to reheat it. Use thinner cuts, but package them together in a stack. Stacking them keeps the surface area low, which will slow the thawing process during travel. When you want to reheat them, separate the stack and thaw them together. Start with several thin cuts, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, stack them while they're still unfrozen so they can kind of squish together a bit, to avoid air pockets, place the stack in a good quality freezer bag and freeze it. That way the whole block has the least surface area, so it stays frozen longest, but you can separate the individual pieces when it's time to cook them. (If you have a vacuum sealer, use that instead of plastic wrap and bags.)

  • Keep it frozen while you travel from your home to the trailhead. If you have an actual freezer in your vehicle, use that. If not, use a good cooler and lots of ice.

  • Insulate the frozen meat. You can get various lightweight insulated envelopes that are intended for mailing food and medicine. I found a lot of inexpensive options by searching "lightweight insulated envelope."

    enter image description here (image source)

  • Don't eat the meat cold. Re-heat it to the safe reheating temperature for leftovers, 165° F or 73.4° C.

    Keep in mind it will probably be partially frozen. One way is to simmer it in a sauce. To keep your pack weight down, I recommend bringing your sauce ingredients in a dry form. Or, you could pack the meat in sous vide bags, and reheat it in simmering water.

Do a test run at as close to real-world conditions as you can manage, then measure the temperature of your meat. If it stayed below 40° F / 4.4° C, you have a reasonable chance of not poisoning yourself on your hike.

  1. Look up the expected day and night temperatures for the first day of your hike. Find a location in or near your home that has similar temperatures. Eg, if the expected weather for your hike is hotter than the outdoor temperatures now where you live, maybe you have an unheated garage, or a poorly insulated mudroom that achieves a similar range. Or maybe you have a bored friend who lives at a different altitude and/or latitude who could run the test for you. Or maybe you can put the meat in a cooler with a little bit of ice and a digital thermometer that you can monitor from outside the cooler.

  2. Cook your meat, package it, freeze it, and wrap it in insulation, exactly as you plan to do on your hike.

  3. Leave it in your simulated hike environment for as long as you plan on waiting before you eat it. Don't forget to simulate the travel time from your home to the trailhead, in whatever cooler you plan to use. (As I mentioned above, two days is probably not going to work, but feel free to test it, and please do let me know if I'm wrong about that.)

  4. Open the package and take its temperature at multiple points. If all the meat is below 40° F / 4.4° C, congrats, it's safe to eat.

  5. If you're not going to bring a meat thermometer on your trip, familiarize yourself with what the meat looks and feels like while still safe. Poke it, and notice how hard or soft it is. Feel the outside of the package - is it still icy cold, or merely chilly? Leave some of the meat out at room temperature until it's not safe anymore. Compare how it looks and feels once unsafe. Consider whether you will be able to tell the difference out on the trail.

  6. (Optional) Practice cooking some of the safe meat (not the stuff you left out until it wasn't safe anymore in step 5) in the same way you plan to cook it on the trail. Eat it. Is it good? Was it worth all the effort you put into it, and the extra weight compared to a dehydrated meal?

If your wrapping and insulation technique works well in the expected temperatures, you could actually bring raw meat and cook it on the trail. I would only try this if your test run stayed well within the safe temperature range; I wouldn't try this if it got close to the upper end of the range. The obvious advantage is that it would taste a lot better than re-heated pre-cooked meat. The disadvantage is that you handle raw meat on the trail, and safe food handling and cleanup is much more difficult without hot running water to wash your hands and cutting board. Plus you have the risk of raw meat juice leaking onto your other stuff. It's doable, but you need to plan ahead. Making a beef stew can work pretty well - bring a single, sealed package of pre-cut chunks of beef, cut it open and squeeze the still partially frozen lump and any meat juices into a simmering stewpot. Put the packaging in your trash bag without touching any of your other stuff, then rinse and sanitize your hands and the knife you used to cut open the package.

Prepare for the possibility that despite all your precautions, your meat simply gets warmer than you expected, and it just doesn't seem safe to eat. If that happens:

  • Don't talk yourself into eating it if you think it's unsafe. Better to go hungry than get sick (you'd lose all the calories anyway).
  • Figure out how you will re-distribute your remaining food after discarding this meal. It's probably better to run a bit low at the end of the trip than skip an entire meal right at the beginning, but you also don't want to completely run out of food before the end.
  • How will you dispose of the unsafe meat? You probably want to unwrap the meat and bury it far away from your camp site. Make sure you know whether you're allowed to do that in this area. If you have to pack it out, it will be very stinky by the end of your 5-day trip. Pack the wrappings out in your trash bag. Be sure to wash and sanitize your hands immediately afterwards.

My personal opinion is, in most circumstances, it won't be worth the hassle that comes with doing it safely, and it's certainly not worth the risk of doing it un-safely. But, I do see the appeal. If you can pull it off safely, real meat can be a huge treat. You can find some middle ground by using smoked or otherwise partially preserved meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, or ham. You should still keep them cold as you would for fresh meat, but the nitrates in them will at least slow bacterial growth, so you have some margin for error. Summer sausage is also a nice option; it's shelf stable but not as dry as beef jerky, which makes it heavier but it seems more like "real" food, so it's a nice treat. And of course you can find a variety of canned meats, as well as chicken, tuna and salmon in foil packets. Those are still a treat compared to dried foods; they taste better, but they weigh a lot more.

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    This might get you to the day after arrival, but no longer than that unless daytime temperatures are fridge-cold – Chris H Feb 25 at 7:46
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    Excellent answer. – bob1 Feb 26 at 1:42
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Take shelf-stable canned meat instead.

It's entirely possible to buy shelf-stable cans of meat that will last for months or years, because the canning process kills all the bacteria that might grow on the meat and make it inedible, while also sealing the meat away to that it won't be recontaminated by the environment. It should be entirely safe to take such a can of meat along with you on a camping trip, as long as you consume the entirety of such a can once it's been opened.

I'm not just talking about canned fish or Spam, either; there's a number of companies that sell canned corned/ground beef or chunks of chicken breast. It's probable that such a can might serve for whatever culinary purposes your pre-cooked meat would have served, though you'll probably want some sort of spoon or fork if you just want to eat it straight out of the can.

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  • Or whole canned chicken :) – mishan Feb 25 at 13:20
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    Cans aren't that heavy. once you are done with it, burn it clean in a campfire and crush it down to hike it out. Much better than glass jars or bottles for example. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Feb 25 at 21:09
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    It's not just the can but also all the water. Dry meat much better. – Tomas By Feb 25 at 22:08
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    i know that canned goods include water. people who want to hike w cooked chicken meat arent necessarily super psyched about jerky. i'm not either, but more because of the salt content of the stuff. carrying a 12-16 oz (300-500ml) can for 1-2 days isn't a tremendous hardship - part of hiking attraction for me is exercise. main thing that would bum me out is, again, salt content of the meat. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Feb 26 at 3:37
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    OP says 5 days. It doesn't have to be jerky, and you don't have to eat it dry. – Tomas By Feb 26 at 6:37
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It's not safe. Meat spoils quickly.

However, here in the US there is a safe way to hike with chicken:

https://starkist.com/products/premium-white-chicken-pouch

It's prepared like canning but it's in a foil pouch.

They also sell such packs of tuna fish.

I feel like I've seen other meats this way but a quick search isn't turning them up.

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This is unsafe unless you can keep the food at or below 4°C (39°F) until it is consumed.

There are many questions about this on the cooking SE, where they have a thread devoted to proper storage of food. To quote the highest upvoted answer by Aaronut:

The USDA has this to say on it:

Storing Leftovers
One of the most common causes of foodborne illness is improper cooling of cooked foods. Because bacteria are everywhere, even after food is cooked to a safe internal temperature, they can be reintroduced to the food and then reproduce. For this reason leftovers must be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerated within 2 hours.

You'll find similar statements from government agencies around the world. The safe limit for raw or cooked food is 2 hours in the danger zone (40-140°F or 4.4-60°C).

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    The fact that government agencies say to do X doesn't mean that if you don't do X you'll get sick. These are perfectly reasonable recommendations for people who have access to a refrigerator, but people throughout history have generally not done anything like this. The per-meal risk of serious food poisoning is normally very small. It becomes significant only when you multiply by the thousands of meals we eat over the years. – Ben Crowell Feb 24 at 23:23
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    @BenCrowell - the way it was explained to me was that, this is a site that is public, providing advice that is unsafe is poor practice. No, there's no guarantee that someone would get sick after eating food stored at room temp for a day or so, but would you be happy if it were you that had to go rescue them (think of the expense and time especially in COVID times...), or it resulted in them dying – bob1 Feb 24 at 23:31
  • Did you really call an SE site a "subreddit" and a question a "thread"? :) – nanoman Feb 28 at 4:42
  • @nanoman - that's the perils of browsing two sites at once and being up late... – bob1 Feb 28 at 7:08
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There are a number of ways you can prepare certain types of meat to enable you to store it in room temperature conditions. You could make buy or make beef jerky, for instance. The key in that is that the meat has been cured by dehydration.

If making beef jerky (I personally don't enjoy store-bought jerky), make sure to follow a good recipe with an eye for food safety. Also, I would recommend making small vacuum packages if possible, after cooling the pieces completely. Sealed, it will be safe to eat for a number of days up to 2 weeks, depending on circumstances.

Just cooking it to a food-safe temperature is not the same as curing, so a grilled piece of chicken breast will be safe to eat for at most 2 hours, if unrefrigerated. I have brought cooked chicken on a picnic, wrapped in foil and packed with a few ice-packs in a cooling bag, but bringing cooling equipment on a hike will not be convenient, so it's most likely not a path I would recommend.

Enjoy your hike!

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You can dehydrate cooked chicken in a home dehydrator. Bake a chicken breast (you want almost no fat in it), cut it into cubes, and dehydrate it. To use it, boil it in some water a few hours before you want to eat. Let it sit with a lid (and perhaps also a towel around it) while you set up camp and whatever, then bring it back to the boil and add other stuff to it, cook some rice, whatever. You can make nice chicken stew or curry in the wilderness this way. You can do the same with beef (choose a very lean cut.) Cooked ground beef also works and rehydrates faster than the cubes.

When canoe camping, where weight is not an issue, I rehydrate meat cubes by putting them in a Nalgene bottle in the morning, adding boiling water, and carrying them around all day, then cooking them when we get to camp.

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    I see a lot of "add water and carry it around all day, then eat it 8 or more hours later" recommendations for rehydrating dry food when backpacking. That's risky. The boiling water will kill some of the microbes in the bottle and dried food. But there could certainly be some microbes left alive, and the whole mess will quickly cool from "safely hot" to "comfortably warm." Now you have a warm, wet, calorie-rich environment, and you let it incubate for many hours. Any harmful microbes have plenty of time to reproduce. – csk Feb 25 at 21:32
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    It seems like the kind of thing that you will get away with a lot of the time. But those few instances when you have some harmful remaining microbes in the container, you can get very, very sick. – csk Feb 25 at 21:33
  • Sure. I am scruplulous when preparing the dried food, and I rinse the container well with boiling water before adding anything when rehydrating, and the whole thing is done with clean hands. So I feel that is enough precaution. But others might not: they can rehydrate over an hour or two of simmering (which does not have to involve fuel all that time) to be extra careful. – Kate Gregory Feb 25 at 21:49
  • This is what I do for week long wilderness kayak trips, except I dehydrate canned chicken as it seems to be less tough after re-hydration. Mix it with other dried ingredients, optionally vacuum pack it, rehydrate for 5 mins, boil for 2 min, sit for 10 min, and its ready. Lightweight, low space (space is limited due to bear bin or hanging requirements). Less salt and less expensive than commercial dried food. The book "Recipes for Adventure" has lots of recipes (no affiliation with the book; just worked well for me). – llogan Feb 26 at 20:37
  • Instead of baking the chicken I cook it in a pressure cooker. Then I can easily shred it before dehydrating. I've found that pressure cooked, shredded, dehydrated chicken re-hydrates pretty well, in the same time frame as minute rice and dehydrated veggies or about 5 minutes. – intrepidhero Mar 2 at 18:00
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There are ways to make meat safe for multiple day excursions, but it's not something I would recommend for a do-it-yourself project. When I used to take trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, we would take summer sausages. Those are cured in a way that makes them reasonably stable at normal temperatures for a week. For the first day meal, we might use meat that was deep frozen when we started the trip - half a day was about the right amount of time for it to thaw but still be cold.

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  • not any old summer sausage, but some of them for sure. I'm a fan of the Schneiders in the cloth bag - that's the one that doesn't need to be refrigerated. If you ask at the deli counter they can find you an unsliced piece. Also any of the salami and pepperoni being sold out of the refrigerator case just in baskets in the aisle. – Kate Gregory Feb 26 at 20:41
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Packing any food (except fully pulverized one) in zip bags is the worst idea ever! It creates perfect conditions for bacteria: a micro-atmosphere full of moisture!

If you want your food to last longer, you need to remove as much moisture as possible. Frying is much better than boiling or roasting, because it removes a lot of water. The best thing is smoking - this is what the people all over the world were doing before refrigeration and canning was invented.

Unless there's a reason you want a DIY variant, the best option is to buy canned or vacuum packed food.

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  • Frying is one method of cooking - perhaps you need to be more specific what kind of "cooking" you're actually comparing to. – Toby Speight Feb 27 at 16:37
  • @TobySpeight google translate said me that cooking is in boiling water, did it betray me? – Danubian Sailor Feb 27 at 22:44
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    @DanubianSailor well, it's not wrong, it's basically covered by cooking, but cooking is pretty broad. No idea why GT picked that particular one in your case. You can cook noodles (that would indeed be in water), you can cook a meal of steak with fries and salad, where the steak is done on the stove in a pan the fries are fried or done in the oven and the salad is just mixed together. Cooking is covering a lot of processes to "prepare food". If you start searching for "cooking meat" google should offer autocompletes such as "in the oven" " in water" etc. Hope that clarifies^^ – Frank Hopkins Feb 28 at 5:18
  • As Frank says, boiling food is one form of cooking, but frying, roasting, grilling etc. are also forms of cooking. I've edited to be specific about what you meant. – Toby Speight Feb 28 at 11:15
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A couple options I have not seen on here:

  • Pack your meat in dry ice with insulating container.
  • Opt for freeze-dried meat.

My father used to tell me of when he and a friend packed steaks in dry ice and ate them at the end of a multi-day hike. So, can it be done? Yes. Should it be done? It's up to you; the risk is yours to take. There is always a risk of spoilage when storing meat in uncontrolled conditions.

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Before there were refrigerators, people would routinely continue to eat from a piece of meat until it started to smell bad. This was pretty much all you could do with a big carcass like a cow, which couldn't be finished off at one sitting. Salting and brine were used only when you wanted the meat to keep for much longer periods, like weeks or months on a ship. Even today, government inspections of meat in the US consist of nothing more than examining it to see if it's discolored or smells rotten.

I would cook it beforehand, keep it out of direct sun, and eat it for dinner the first night rather than waiting longer. Sniff it to make sure it smells OK before you use it. If you have a convenient opportunity to freeze it, then the first day of hiking would probably be just enough to thaw it back out.

If you're worried, dump it in some boiling water and wait long enough for the heat to penetrate fairly well. Pathogens die very quickly at temperatures far below boiling. Cutting it up into small pieces will make this more effective.

I would be more worried about the weight of this type of food and about the mess and difficulty of getting rid of the blood and smell, which may attract nuisance animals like raccoons or bears.

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    Heating it would kill the pathogens, it wouldn't do anything to the pathogens they produced. – Loren Pechtel Feb 25 at 3:38
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    @LorenPechtel not so applicable to meat, but in the case of botulism (for example) it's the other way round - heat destroys the toxin but not the spores – Chris H Feb 25 at 7:45
  • There's a lot of truth in what you say. The French have a historical word for semi-rotten meat, "faisander", coming from pheasants being hung up, upside down, cool location, for a few days to "develop character". So, your suggestions can be carried out. Should they be done, outside of someone in a starvation/food deprivation situation? If someone was starving and could only see your post here, by all means, great post. If they could choose another way, like the OP? Noooooo. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Feb 28 at 10:40

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