Keeping a cooler full of food cold for a few hours during a day trip to the beach is one thing, but long-term storage requires a little more planning. If you’re heading out to the lake for a week, you want to make sure that the steak you planned for dinner on Thursday doesn’t go bad on Tuesday. Camping Life and The Outdoor World both offer some fantastic tips for keeping your food at a safe temperature.
Plan ahead. Cool your cooler with milk jugs full of frozen water for several hours before loading it. Freeze everything that can be frozen. Pack it in the cooler in the order you plan on using it so you never need to waste cool air digging for something at the bottom.
Remember that cold air sinks. Keep the items that need to stay coldest on the bottom. Add your ice to the top. Be mindful of food contamination, though. Water from melting ice can contaminate cold cuts with bacteria from uncooked meat, for example, so transfer your ice to heavy duty freezer bags before putting it in with the food.
Keep it closed. If you have cool items that people will be opening the cooler for all day long, like juice or condiments, pack them in their own cooler. Open the cooler with your temperature-sensitive items as rarely as possible.
Don’t guess: measure. Nothing is worse than a vacation called to a messy end for food poisoning. Bring a thermometer that allow you to rest the sensor in the cooler with the display on the outside so you can monitor the temps and make sure your food stays at 40º F or below.