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Hunting season is here! I have already started seeing pictures of game that has been harvested. Hunting trips let you connect with friends and family, give you a chance to take a break from work, and let you spend time outdoors with nature. Making sure that your deer camp practices food safety is important so that you can keep hunting.

Most of the same rules for food safety apply as they would in your home, but deer camp can create some challenges. The last thing you want is everyone sick because foodborne illness struck the deer camp and there is only one bathroom. The following tips can help you stay food safe while at deer camp, whether it is in a cabin, camper or tent:

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Most hot food eaten in the outdoors is cooked on a camp stove or open fire, but that doesn't mean you're not in danger. Food cooked at camp needs to be consumed or stored in a cooler or refrigerator within two hours of being cooked. Cold foods also need special attention and need to be kept at 40 degrees or lower. Food should never be left out at room temperatures for more than 2 hours.

Use thermometers. I am vigilant when it comes to using a thermometer to take the temperature of foods. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of cooked food before serving. There are cooking requirements for specific types of foods: Ground meats should be cooked to 155 degrees; poultry 165 degrees; steaks, chops and seafood 145 degrees and all other foods 135 degrees. Cooking on a camp stove or open fire can lead to uneven heating or charring. This can give you the false sense that something is done when it might be raw inside, so your thermometer is one line of defense against foodborne illness. Take the temperature of your foods in the thickest part of the meat.

If you don't have a refrigerator, a refrigerator thermometer in your ice chest will assure that those foods stay out of the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees. Keep it near the top/lid. This will be the warmest place. Your cooler should be 40 degrees or lower. Change ice often and drain excess water to help maintain this temperature.

Keep everything clean. Deer camp is not a time to forgo cleanliness. While the idea of being one with nature and getting your hands dirty is enticing, that dirt could potentially make you sick. No matter what, always wash your hands before preparing or eating food. If there's no running water available, plan to make your own portable hand washing station. It doesn't have to be elaborate, it just needs clean water, soap, paper towels, a bucket to catch the dirty water and a small trash bag.

Items used for cooking and eating also need to be clean, including the cooler. It's hard to beat eggs, bacon or sausage and biscuits cooked at camp, right? Letting the cooking dishes sit until later invites pathogens. Instead, clean up after the meal: wash the dishes, let them air dry and be ready to go for the next meal. Never wash dishes in untreated lake/river water. Natural water can be used, but needs to be boiled or otherwise be ridden of pathogens (iodine tablets, filtered, bleach treated, etc.) before using on food contact surfaces. Also, avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meat and ready to eat foods separate.

Never drink from streams, lakes or rivers. No matter how clean the water looks, it could contain bacteria or parasites that can make you sick. These organisms can't be seen, smelled or tasted. Always filter, boil or otherwise treat drinking water if you're sourcing it from nature.

Choose foods that need little or no preparation to reduce your chances of improper handling. Having steak, campfire chili or venison stew sounds wonderful, but can cause more problems than its worth if you do not follow food safety protocols. Canned or pre-packaged products can make life easier and safer around camp.

For more food safety information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.

Have a safe and productive hunt and keep yourself, family, and friends safe. Here is a great Southwest Stew recipe made in a Dutch oven. Use ground venison or beef, whichever you prefer.

Southwest Stew Dutch Oven Style

Dutch Oven Size: 12"

Heat: Top: 19-21 Bottom: 6-7

2 pounds ground beef or venison

1 cups onion, diced

1 can tomatoes, chopped

1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 can corn, drained

1 cup picante sauce

cup water

1 teaspoon cumin powder

teaspoon garlic powder

teaspoon black pepper

In Dutch oven, brown beef and onions, drain excess fat. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired. Serve with crackers or cornbread. Serves 6-8.

Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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