Food & Water

One of the most important considerations when planning an outback trip is the selection of foods to take and the amount needed to keep everyone healthy and happy. The kinds of foods that will keep fresh and the time travelling in the outback and away from towns will play a big part in this plan. This article provides some good tips in regards to food and water, along with relevant quarantine regulations.
Created: June 2008
Revised: May 2016
Latest Feedback: September 2016

Food Storage

Meat

If you're planning a trip of over a week from reliable food stores, you'll probably be planning to purchase and pack all your trip food before you depart. Problem is, how do you keep fresh meat fresh for over a week?

At home, we normally extend the life of fresh meat and produce by using a freezer. Although most camp fridges can be set to run at lower temperatures to freeze, and some even come with dual compartments for fridge and freezer, you may find that freezing food is not the most practical option.

Cryovac packaging (vacuum bag seal) is widely used in the food industry to prolong freshness of various foods and it's particularly suitable for prolonging the life of meat. That said however, meat and even meat in cryovac bags should still be kept in a very cool and preferably refrigerated place to prevent harmful bacteria from developing and spreading.

Many butchers and even supermarkets will be able to cryovac meat for you on request, but we suggest you do a little research and ask if they have a cryovac machine before you purchase your meat. In some cases there'll be no charge, but expect to pay anywhere up to $1 per bag.

Supermarkets also sell prepared meats, rolled roasts, hams, and occassionally cuts in vacuum sealed bags, which you'll notice have longer use-by dates than you would normally expect from fresh meat.

The general rule of thumb is that red meat in cryovac will stay fresh for up to 6 weeks if kept refrigerated. Please note that the bag seal quality and the true freshness of the meat may affect this duration. It is important to understand that diced cuts, mince and white meats have a shorter life so use chicken, pork, lamb, beef in that order. Never cryovac sausages for they will not withstand the vacuum process and will split their skins. For practicality, you should ask the butcher to individually cryovac into meal portions (about 400g for 2 adults). Meat with bones will normally only last 2 weeks in cryovac, eg T-bone steaks, however it is safest to avoid using cryovac for any meat with bones to avoid bag tears. Any meat that is cut with a knife will have a lesser life because the knife creates a reaction with the meat that will continue during storage. This means that you should avoid pre-sliced stir-fry cuts and instead use a single piece of meat and then slice the meat yourself into serving sizes.

Another option is to purchase and use your own vacuum sealer and package your own meat & fish products. This gives you greater flexibility as you can then purchase exactly what you want, regardless of current packaging, you could also add marinades/herbs to the package prior to vacuum sealing to make meal preparation on the road even easier! The ExplorOz shop stocks the Campfire Vacuum Sealer, along with various sizes of pre-cut bags, and rolls that you can customise to your own size.

Upon opening a cryovac bag of meat, you may notice a discolouration, or browning of the meat. You may even think it has an unusual smell. Before assuming your meat has spoiled, wash the meat in fresh water and let it air for 5 minutes. The meat should settle and there'll be no smell. If however the meat still has a definate odour, you'll know that your meat is off and should not be eaten. This is very unusual if you've followed the tips above, and normally indicates that the bag has been pierced.

Vegetables & Fruit

Despite some outback roadhouses being pretty well stocked, it's can be difficult to buy fresh vegies other than staples such as spuds and onions. One solution is to limit yourself to the fresh vegetables that travel and store well. Potatoes, sweet potato, carrots, onions, eggplant, zucchini and fresh fruits (when available) like oranges, grapefruits, apples.

A useful tip for storing vegies out of the fridge is to wrap each individual vegetable or fruit in one or two sheets of newspaper and store them out of direct sunlight. A well ventilated, open cardboard, foam or wooden box is best. Cover with an old towel or blanket to help keep help the heat out. Avoid using plastic crates or eskies with lids as the fruit and vegie tends to get hot and sweat and ripen more quickly. Using this method, vegetables and fruit last for weeks. Note: boxes will be confiscated by WA Dept of Agriculture Checkpoints if you try to bring them into that State as they are banned from entering WA by road unless tested). There is a manned checkpoint on the Eyre Highway and an honesty dump bin on the Great Central Road.

Another option is growing your own salad vegies. Most health food shops sell the beans/seeds and they're very easy to sprout. You can use a plastic take-away style food container with a few holes punched in the lid. Line it with paper towel, then sprinkle with a generous layer of seeds. Next, wet your fingers and gently drip them with just enough water to saturate the paper towel and seeds. Don't drench the seeds - too much water will cause mould. Check your sprouts every day or so and add more water as required. They will need at least a moderate amount of sunlight but don't put them in direct, hot sunlight. They only take 7 days or so to sprout and can be eaten as early as 4 or 5 days. A great suggestion is to keep 3 containers at different growth stages on the go so you always have some ready to eat but not so many that you need to refrigerate them before they can be consumed. You can start them off at home before you go.

Reminder - many states operate strict quarantine procedures to restrict the movement of fruit and vegetables across state borders to assist in the control of fruit fly and other diseases. Please observe all signs and be aware that you may be asked to open your vehicle for an inspection. At this point you may declare and submit anything you are carrying - you will not be fined, however be aware that on-the-spot fines apply for not declaring. See Quarantine

Bread

Consider carrying ingredients to make bread or damper as many towns don't have fresh bread which means you only get the frozen "fairy bread" variety. Also, make sure if you decide to take bread to store it in a super air-tight bag as bread doesn't take very long to go mouldy.

Dried Sachets

Maybe not your regular choice of food, but certainly very useful for travellers. Supermarkets all over Australia, including the smallest of outback community stores will offer a range of food stuffs in freeze dried packets. You can get pasta, rice, vegetable and full meal combinations in lightweight, convenient packaging. Packets will burn making them ideal for extend, remote area trips where you must carry out all your rubbish (such as the Canning Stock Route).

Tins

There are many interesting foodstuffs packaged in tins and available from supermarkets and stores all over Australia. We tend to stock up heavily in major towns/cities by filling a couple of fisherman's tubs full of tins. When our supplies of perishable and fresh foods runs out, we then rely on the packaged and tinned foods. This method may mean your storage needs are increased, however the advantage is that you can buy these convenience foods at the city stores where costs are generally far cheaper (supply and demand).

Dairy Products

Almost all dairy products are available in UHT packaging, which means they are perishable and can be stored for long periods of time out of the fridge. Of course, once opened, UHT products behave as do fresh dairy products and will require refrigeration of 4º C or below and should be used within 5-7 days.

The advantage of UHT milk, unlike powdered milk, is that it does not require water to prepare it. Water carried in your vehicle is precious and carrying enough to make up extra ingredients will affect your storage capability.

The only disadvantage that we know of with UHT milk is that the waxed cardboard boxes used for packaging can become damaged by heavy vibration or bouncing, which can cause air to get in and make the milk go off. However, during our 2 years continuous on the road stint, we only had one occurrence of this, plus one instance where 4 containers actually leaked. The trick is to pack them square and secure in an area of the vehicle body where you can expect the least movement (ie. not over the rear wheels).

How much Food to Take?

No matter how large your family, you should try to set up your vehicle with enough food storage ability for about 3 weeks travel, even if you only plan to be out of range of supplies for 1 week. The reasons for this are to ensure that you have adequate emergency supplies and also so that you have a better range of foods to choose from. Personally, I don't actually plan a set menu - rather I cook what is appropriate for the location, access to firewood or restrictions that mean certain meals cannot be made. Your trip is meant to be fun, not a chore so don't stress over the menu. Just make sure there is enough food!

How much Water to Take?

Think about alternate water storage so that if one tank or bottle seems contaminated there is a backup source. 2 containers is also handy so you can separate your drinking water from other water. Our main supply is a stainless water tank of 60L but we supplement this with 2 small plastic jerry cans. Estimate 2L drinking water per person per day PLUS water for cooking and washing. You will be amazed at the high amount of "other" water you use as opposed to drinking water. Read the feature on Water Tanks

Bush Shower

A great bush shower can be had by purchasing a heat exchanger to utilise your car's thermostat to control water temperature. We use a length of hose, a small marine water pump, a heat converter and a shower rose dipped into a bucket of river water for great hot showers out in the bush. The car needs to be running and the water is pumped up through the hose, through the engine and out the shower rose while you stand at the front of the car and enjoy! We use about 10L for 2 people. Read the feature on Vehicle Shower Systems.


Solar Bags

For something a bit simpler, the solar bags are great. Little more than a black plastic bag that you fill with water and hang in the sun, they provide a decent water flow for a rinse off. Water will warm up quite quickly in the sun (there's usually plenty of this when you're in the outback) but if there is no sun, boil up a few litres over your stove or in the fire and you'll be surprised at how little it takes to have a nice, warm shower. They are also a very handy as an extra water storage/cartage container.

Water Recycling

There are lots of ways to conserve and recycle your water usage. Using a bit of commonsense you'll soon be washing the dishes in the vegetable water, washing your face in the boiled egg water, doing your clothes washing in the river water and rinsing your dishes in a bucket of salt water just so you can stretch your resources to stay a few days longer in that idyllic camp spot!

Australia's Domestic Quarantine Rules

Australia is a major agricultural producer and exporter, responsible for 12% of our GDP. Across the country there is a mix of irrigation and dry-land farming with 61% of the land-mass utilised for production. The introduction of a pest, disease or weed into a production area can result in expensive controls being implemented and in a loss of markets.

There is an enormous range of pests, diseases and weeds which can affect plant industries in Australia. Some are already present in Australia and may be confined to small areas of the country. For this reason, each state and territory has its own list of restrictions for the movement of fruit, vegetables, plants, soils, flowers, plant products, agricultural machinery, animals or animal products and recreational equipment. These restrictions are in place to restrict the spread of pests, diseases and weeds from one part of Australia to another.

These restrictions operate under state and territory legislation and travellers face on-the-spot fines for taking prohibited items across borders.

Some areas of Australia are especially stringent with enforcing local quarantine regulations and manned quarantine checkpoints are in place at strategic locations to assist in stopping the movement of restricted items. At these locations, every vehicle is stopped and a quarantine officer will ask you to declare any restricted item. This item will be placed into a quarantine disposal bin and will be later investigated to check for any diseases and then disposed off. You are not penalised for declaring restricted items at a checkpoint. Quarantine officers may also inspect your vehicle to check for undeclared items. Again, you are not penalised for any items found during such a search.

Other locations are not manned by quarantine officers however signage will alert you that you are at a quarantine border and honesty bins provided to allow you to stop and dispose of any restricted item. If you fail to dispose of restricted items and are found to be carrying such items you will be fined. By law, you can be flagged down by random mobile quarantine officers at any location in Australia. It is your responsibility to ensure you are not carrying restriction items at any time.

For travellers that take remote tracks and routes across Australia, there may be times when you inadvertently could cross a quarantine border that has no checkpoint, and no honesty bin. In these circumstances, you can eat or cook the prohibited fresh fruit & vegetables that are listed as restricted for that area you are about to enter. Cooked fruits and vegetables are considered to be pest & disease free within the quarantine regulations so this is a logical solution if you find yourself in this situation. Do not use any other method to dispose of fresh fruit or vegetable matter unless there is an official quarantine disposal bin provided (ie. do not burn or bury fresh produce).

Many people are unaware of these restrictions and are disappointed to have to place fresh produce in disposal bins at checkpoints, however by checking these regulations you can avoid such waste.

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