Cooking Outdoors and Covid
Wild cooking, eating and sharing -during covid restrictions
It has become obvious that some outdoor practitioners who were super happy to get involved and cook before the pandemic are now feeling nervous about it and maybe even opting out of it all together in order to provide covid safe sessions. Packed lunches have become the outdoor session, corona norm. Throughout the pandemic so far, we have tried to keep on cooking with the small #wanderings groups of four that we had on expeditions and now with larger educational groups in the woods. This blog responds to a question on our wild cooking eating and sharing page on facebook asking about ways to continue cooking with groups. It in no way offers definitive, 100% fool proof solutions but offers ideas and ways to consider moving forward with cooking-for and with groups-outdoors again.
Maybe because communal outdoor cooking is so much at the heart of our practice with the curious school of the wild, we have been pretty determined to find creative ways to keep it all going. It may be more important than ever for outdoor practitioners to provide food for groups for inclusivity, accessibility and diversity. With winter approaching, we use hot food almost like a first aid kit and so it's really important that people feel confident cooking for groups again. What follows are some ways that we have found worked for us and you can adapt the ideas for your own comfort levels and budget. Some solutions keep us sharing food outside which is great but can have downsides such as extra cost, packaging waste or less health benefits, so juggle it all, in a way that works for you and your groups.
What the official guidance says:
It is believed that if food is cooked thoroughly that covid is not transmittable through food so opting for cooked food may actually be better than cold snacks etc. Food businesses are advised to have a risk assessment for food safety during covid and it may be wise for outdoor practitioners to do the same. Government guidance says that those working with food need to have a high level of hygiene but don’t necessarily require gloves to handle food. Food businesses need to have clear cleaning procedures of kit and surfaces and premises etc. For us outdoors, I would suggest that it maybe safer where possible to take dirty cutlery and cups etc. to a dishwasher on a hot wash, rather than wash in cold water in the woods. We are doing this currently so that we can reassure groups that our cups and kit are properly sanitised.
There is no indication that you should not be cooking in your outdoor settings if you are following good hygiene practices generally and around the cooking activity. It appears that there is no extra guidance for schools and food provision specific to covid nor to those cooking for and in the community. Everyone is different however and covid anxiety seems to be on a spectrum and often the way we operate is designed to make participants and parents more comfortable with risk. So here is a list of our tried and tested covid cooking ideas for you to pick and mix.
Can everyone have their own cooking kit?
For small groups you may be able to provide each person with their own stove or Kelly kettle. For the #wanderings expedition events that we offered just after lockdown we invested in more kit so that we could provide four participants with everything they needed including a Trangia stove. This kit was then quarantined for 72 hours before the next wandering event ran. If a stove each is out of the question then maybe cooking in individual billy cans/mess tins or metal mugs, the food tin can, could achieve the same outcome
Can you use pre-packaged foods?
To ensure that only the person eating the food has touched it, we have worked out how to cook with pre packaged foods. This is not really our style at all but it has meant that we could provide an individual cooking kit to participants knowing no one except them has had contact with the food inside. Great examples of this are; pre packed snack cheese portions, small portions of tomato puree, small bags of bread mix, microwave rice/pulses/grain packets, snack packs of veg, small hotel style portions of jam, pepperami, snack packs of olives, small portions of pesto, stock cubes, individual sachets of hot chocolate, coffee, cuppa soup, mug shots, porridge etc.
Can one person prepare the food for everyone?
Where food must be prepared freshly and it is not within our budget or desirable to use pre-packaged food we have allocated one person to take responsibility for a part of the prep. For pizzas for example we had all of the ingredients in containers so that participants could be involved and select toppings but one person did the assembling while one other took responsibility for the cooking. This is not risk free but narrows down the amount of contact with the food and ingredients. This works well if you can prep food that participants can still have some involvement in from afar even if its just selecting what they want "subway stylee".
Can you use paper cups, disposable cutlery and "just add water food"?
At a community event we were booked for, we were working with people we did not know. We wanted to still have the feeling of communal cooking over fire and sharing food so we opted for boiling water in Kelly kettles, paper cups, wooden disposable spoons and cuppa soups. Again, not really our style in terms of nutrition and waste but it did achieve the feeling of sharing food together. To make it more fun and get people involved, we offered every conceivable flavour of soup that we could find!
Can you provide everyone with tongs, and their own kitchen tools set?
If you need a group to get involved in cooking together, can you use lots of pairs of tongs so no one touches any food and they don’t need to share tools? The other option is to use food safe gloves for a similar outcome. Ideally if using non pre portioned food then covered tubs would work best to limit air borne contamination. An enormous spoon is also quite helpful!
Can you pre portion the food yourself?
For big pot communal cooking you can still get your group involved by pre preparing and portioning the ingredients and having them ready to add to the cooking process from tubs or bags. This is a method we often use anyway, alongside a story such as stone soup, where each person can role play a villager and add their pot of food to the stone soup. We are using this for our toddler snacks too. Snacks will all be pre portioned into a tub so that each toddler gets a snack not touched by everyone else in the group on a communal plate or bowl. This way you can control the environment that the food is prepared and served in.
What food can you think of where each person takes responsibility for their own dish?
Tonnes of campfire favourites will work brilliantly to reduce risks. Campfire toffee apples on a stick, tin foil chocolate bananas with a small packet of choc buttons each, mug eggs-an egg cooked in a buttered or oiled metal mug on or near the fire, toasting a croissant that was individually wrapped, porridge made in a mug, sweetcorn in foil, anything on an extendable fork or cooking stick, cooking food in the tin can and tonnes more.
Can you use a pump flask like a hot tap?
We have purchased pump taps for extra hand washing in the woods but we also use a pump flask filled with warmer water for hand washing for better hygiene for cooking etc. Gov guidelines suggest that if you are involved in preparing food that you wash your hands at these times:
before and after handling food
before handling clean cutlery, dishes, glasses, or other items to be used by the customer
after handling dirty or used items, such as collecting used dishes from customer tables
after handling money
after touching high-contact surfaces, such as door handles
when moving between different areas of the workplace
after being in a public place
after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
What food has its own natural packaging?
Try bananas, oranges, chestnuts, jacket spuds, boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, melon, pomegranate.....
Can you use a quick chop device?
We had a cool present from one of of our amazing parents-a pull string chopper for prepping veg, fruit or blending soups without a blender. There is also a press lid version that you can get. It's great fun and limits the contact with food when lots of chopping needs to be done.
Hope this helps you all to enjoy cooking outdoors again. Let me know if you have invented any new systems for cooking with your groups.