Simple Ways to Keep Traveling Food Cool

To reduce risk with perishable food, place a frozen juice box,  frozen container of water, or a frozen gel pack in an insulated lunchbox or bag.  The beverage will thaw by lunchtime, and the food should still be cool. 

In addition, some sandwiches can be frozen ahead of time to defrost by lunch. Experiment at home first to see how long it  takes your sandwich to thaw.  (Bread is a low-moisture product, so there is not much in it to freeze or thaw.)  However, do not freeze the sandwich with mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomato slices; they’ll make the sandwich soggy.   (Mayonnaise should be sent in single-serving packets.)  Pack those ingredients separately in an airtight baggy. They can be added immediately before eating.

Want cheese for lunch? American cheese is a low-moisture food which does not  encourage bacterial growth.  Freeze the sandwich, leave it frozen until just before leaving home, and it should be fine at lunchtime.   A favorite with kids, string cheese is a higher-moisture product and should be kept refrigerated (as the package says).  Still, it can be taken for lunch if placed directly on top of a cold pack in an insulated lunch box.  It  might be a good idea to wrap the cheese and the cold pack together to be sure the cheese stays cold. 
When putting perishable or semi-perishable foods into a lunch box, be sure to consider the amount of food versus the size of the frozen item(s) and the temperatures the food will be exposed to outdoors and indoors.  Test a sample lunch to see if it actually stays cold for 4 hours with a frozen item inside.


Susan Brewer, Ph.D. University of Illinois, Department of Food Safety and Human Nutrition



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