The twilight of beach season is upon us and soon the air will turn crisp. Football fans rejoice this time of year. For the true fan of the sport, there are only two seasons: football season and waiting for football season. More so than any other time of year, legions of fans are stadium-bound for home game celebrations that are not just a tailgate party, but a lifestyle. With tailgates come food, drink, and the possibility of a disaster of gastronomic proportions. Whether enjoying the last of the summer sunsets at the beach, camping, or tailgating, knowing how to pack a cooler will help avoid putting a damper on yours and everyone else's enjoyment.
This time of year, the weather is still warm and temperatures can reach and easily exceed 90˚F. Bacteria grow rapidly between 40˚F and 140˚F. The warmer it is outside the quicker cold food heats to those temperatures. Packing your portable cooler correctly will keep food susceptible to bacteria at the right temperature as well as keep your drinks cool enough for when you need to wet your whistle.
The items you will need to get started to pack a cooler are:
- At least two insulated coolers
- An appliance thermometer
- Plenty of ice, frozen gel packs, and/or frozen water bottles
- Re-sealable plastic bags
- Watertight storage containers
Beverages should be cooled prior to packing in the cooler and stored in a different cooler than the perishables such as meat and dairy. Constantly opening and closing the cooler to get drinks allows warm air to enter and spoil food. Using frozen water bottles to keep food cold will provide extra drinking water when the ice melts. Here are a few more tips on how to pack your cooler:
- Pack perishables directly from the refrigerator or freezer for temperature stability. Meat that is still frozen will stay colder longer, which helps if it will take a bit of time to set up your tailgate spot.
- It is ideal to place all raw meat in a separate cooler from the other food to avoid contamination. If that is not possible, then the meat should be wrapped securely in watertight plastic and placed at the bottom of the cooler.
- All food should be stored and wrapped in a watertight container or packaging to keep it from contact with melting liquid and other food.
- In the beverages cooler, keep drinks at the bottom for optimal cooling conditions. Cold air travels downward, so keeping ice on top of the drinks is essential.
- A full cooler stays colder longer, so fill any empty space with ice and frozen cold packs.
- Place a thermometer in each cooler to ensure the internal temperature stays below 40˚F. There is no guess when you have a thermometer to check.
Once the cooler is packed and you are ready to go, take note of the weather. You can probably get away with putting it in the trunk on a cool or cold day, but if it is hot out, it would be like placing the cooler in a sauna. The ideal placement for the cooler while traveling in a car is on the floor on the passenger side.
Other Tips and Tricks to Pack a Cooler
- Keep your coolers in the shade. Sunlight will warm the cooler and increase the temperature quicker.
- Limit the number of times the food cooler is opened. Just like the refrigerator, make sure the lid is closed quickly and securely.
- Perishables should be placed back in the cooler immediately after eating. Food should not sit out for more than two hours. If it is 90˚F or hotter that day, food should not be let out for more than an hour.
- If there is any question as to the safety of the food or the temperature, throw the food out – "when in doubt, throw it out!"