Keeping your cooler foods and beverages cool over a weekend camping, fishing or hunting trip is sometimes a challenge. But there are things you can do that will help everything stay cooler, longer.

Here are five simple steps that will optimize your cooler’s efficiency, and keep your food fresher and colder. One important note: Start with a cooler that’s been freshly washed with hot, soapy water and thoroughly dried. The only thing a dirty cooler will do is give food-spoiling, illness-causing bacteria a head start.

  1. Pre-cool your clean-and-dry cooler. You want foods that require refrigeration to stay at 40oF or lower to avoid bacterial activity, and a cool cooler is makes a good start. Place clean bags of ice, or three or four clean milk jugs containing frozen water into the cooler a couple of hours before you pack it, then replace it with fresh ice during packing. Not only will your food get back to temperature quicker, your packing ice will melt more slowly.
  1. Pack frozen meats. Well before you pack the cooler, freeze all meat products—steaks, burgers, hot dogs, including pre-made items such as spaghetti sauce or sloppy joes. They’ll act as a cold-source while optimizing cooler space. Remember, after they thaw or have been eaten, they are no longer “ice” that can help keep other items cold.
  1. Put each food item in its own watertight container or zip-top plastic bag before packing the cooler. This will keep leaks contained so they don’t contaminate the rest of your cooler’s contents.
  1. Pack cans and bottles at the bottom of the cooler. Bottled water can be frozen before packing so they help keep other items cold. Follow those with the plastic food containers and cover everything with a layer of ice, making sure cubes fill the crevices between containers. Bagged food items go on top of the packed ice.
  1. For best results, pack the cooler to the very top. Otherwise, there will be space for warm air to settle. If necessary, use a clean bath or kitchen towel to take up any remaining space. From then on, make sure the lid stays closed tightly, and keep each foray into the cooler as brief as possible.

Follow these five simple steps to keep your food and ice fresher, longer. But always remember, bacteria become active at temperatures above 40oF. Keep a small kitchen thermometer in your camp kit and you’ll never have to guess whether that ground beef is still good.

Image courtesy of YETI Coolers

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