In the United States, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer and, with it, many travel events. Families head out for picnics, reunions and graduation parties. Whether you are taking to the road for a day trip or for the weekend, here are a few tips for packing your cooler.
Start with a good, hard-sided cooler. They maintain their cool better than the soft-side zipper coolers. Wash it out with soap and warm water and allow it to dry thoroughly.
Pre-chill your cooler the night before. Coolers act like Thermoses and will maintain temperature. Either ice it down the night before or fill it will cold water from the garden hose. Getting the beginning temperature lowered will really help your ice to last longer.
Freeze or chill all food that will be going into the cooler. Room-temperature food and drinks will melt your ice fast.
Pack your food items in leakproof containers. Lock&Lock brand containers have a gasket seal or you can use zipper-lock bags. Plan to keep raw meat separate from cooked or ready-to-eat items. Preventing contamination is so important and it will keep you from wondering if the food is safe to eat.
Use plenty of ice or frozen ice packs. As your ice melts, it is not necessary to drain off the water in the cooler. The ice and water mixture will actually keep foods colder than ice alone. Also, make sure that the lid of the cooler closes and seals completely. Use an appliance thermometer to be certain that you are maintaining 40 degrees F or below.
When you arrive at your picnic, party, or campsite, try to put your cooler in a shady spot. This will help it maintain temperature. You can also cover your cooler with a blanket for extra insulation or to create your own shade.
You might want to consider using two coolers. Use one for drinks and snacks that are going to be accessed multiple times in the day and a second one for meats and main meal items that you want to stay cold until meal time.
By following these tips, you can keep your food safe and enjoy those summer events. You can find more tips for eating outdoors on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. Happy travels!