How To Keep Your Cooler Cool

Cooler On summer outings—a picnic, beach excursion, boat trip, or camping weekend—food is always part of the fun.  Don’t let it spoil the fun by improper care of the perishable food you bring along.  Mistakes could lead to food-borne illness. Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40°F -140°F, so you need to keep perishable food at 40°F.  Perishables can be above 140°F for a maximum of 2 hours, and reduce that to 1 hour if the outdoor temperature climbs to 90°F or higher.


Keeping food cool in the summer heat may sound like a challenge, but it can be done if you follow the instructions below. Buying (or borrowing) at least one cooler is the first step.  But then you need to pack it right to keep the contents both tasty and safe.  Here’s what government sources recommend:


Make sure you have:

  • Plenty of ice and/or frozen gel packs
  • Preferably, more than one insulated cooler
  • An appliance thermometer 


Keep these tips in mind:


- IMPORTANT TO KNOW: A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. If the cooler isn’t completely filled, pack the remaining space with more ice, gel packs, or frozen food.


- Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Meat and poultry may be packed while still frozen—it will stay colder longer.  [Some types of sandwiches—for example, cheese or sliced turkey sandwiches—can also be packed frozen. They’re likely to defrost in the cooler by lunchtime, but, if not, they’ll defrost quickly in the heat.] 


- Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce.


- Store food in watertight containers to prevent contact with melting ice water. [The ice can be bagged in thick plastic to delay melting. Old frozen food that no one in the family likes can also be used to keep your traveling food cool, and then it can be discarded.]


- Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.
 packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled "ready-to-eat," "washed," or "triple” washed" need not be washed.  [Be especially careful to keep cut-up fruit pieces cool.]


- Perishable food should be stored at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer.


- Reserve one cooler (which will be opened frequently) just for beverages so that your cooler that contain foods will stay cold longer. Limit the times the food cooler is opened, and open and close the lid quickly. 


- When the temperature outside is above 90 °F, put leftover perishable food back in the cooler within 1 hour after serving.  If the temperature is cooler than that, you can leave food out for 2 hours. 


- An appliance thermometer takes the guesswork out of knowing your food is safe to eat, So be sure to put one in your food cooler, and check it from time to time. Discard perishable food that’s been at temperatures above 40°F for more than 2 hours.


 EXCELLENT IDEAS FOR BEACH TRIPS: At the beach, partially bury your cooler in the sand, cover it with blankets, and shade it with an umbrella for extra insulation.


And one additional tip from your Shelf Life Advice guru:


- Pack some nonperishables for the kids to nibble on during the trip home.  By then, your ice and gel packs may not be doing their job, but foods like plain crackers, cookies, and pretzels, while they may get your car full of crumbs, can stave off starvation without danger.


Source(s): Check Your Steps”Chill: How to Pack a Cooler to Prevent Food Poisoning”


FDA Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely, Food Facts “Pack and Transport Food Safely”






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