A Boater’s Guide to Food Safety
By Kathy Bernard, Food Safety Education Staff, USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service
You’re out on the boat at last, and looking forward to catchin’ some rays and maybe even some fish. The last thing you need is food poisoning.
But like a lot of boaters, you could be taking chances. Too much sun on a hot day can make perishable food dangerous.
Perishable food and your “catch” must be handled with care. Mishandled food can become contaminated with bacteria and cause food poisoning.
- Perishables, like lunch meats, cooked chicken and potato or pasta salads, should be kept cold in a cooler with ice.
- Pack your cooler with several inches of ice or use frozen gel packs.
- Store food in water-tight containers to prevent contact with melting ice.
- Keep the cooler out of the sun, covered, if possible, for further insulation.
- Not all foods need refrigeration. Good non-perishables for boat trips are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, trail mix, canned meat spreads and yes, peanut butter and jelly. Once canned meats have been opened, keep them in the cooler.
- If you don’t have a cooler try freezing sandwiches for your trip. Use coarse-textured bread that will resist getting soggy when thawed and take mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato with you to add when you’re ready to eat.
- If you bring a cooler, keep it closed as much as possible and store drinks in a second cooler.
Put perishables back on ice as soon as possible after eating. Don’t let food sit out while you fish or swim. Food sitting out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours is not safe to eat. At 90 degrees or above, food should not sit out over 1 hour. At high temperatures food spoils quickly. If you have any doubts, throw it out!
If you’re planning to fish, check with your fish and game agency or state health department to see where you can fish safely, then follow these guidelines.
- Scale, gut, and clean fish as soon as they're caught.
- Live fish can be kept on stringers or in live wells, as long as they have enough water and enough room to move and breathe.
- Wrap fish, both whole and cleaned, in water-tight plastic and store on ice.
- Keep 3 to 4 inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler. Alternate layers of fish and ice.
- Store the cooler out of the sun and cover with a blanket.
- Once home, eat fresh fish within 1 to 2 days or freeze them. For top quality, use frozen fish within 3 to 6 months.
- Crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish must be kept alive until cooked.
- Store in live wells or out of water in a bushel or laundry basket under wet burlap or seaweed.
- Live oysters should be cooked within 7 to 10 days.
- Live mussels and clams should be cooked within 4 to 5 days.
- Eating raw shellfish is extremely dangerous. People with liver disorders or weakened immune systems are especially at risk.
For more seafood safety information including a video, visit us at FoodSafety.gov.