Whether you are going camping or across the country, you have to solve the puzzle of the coolers. How do you pack them? What do you put where? How do you keep the contents cold? The following tips and techniques will help you keep that food safe and cold.

The commandment for coolers is to keep perishable food cold. Cold means 40 degrees or colder. Perishables include dairy, cut fruit, meats, and products with eggs along with anything else that will grow bacteria. (Almost anything with high moisture content—with the exception of some sweets—will harbor bacteria.) When in doubt, keep it cold.

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The following tips will help.

• Pack containerized, water-proof foods in the bottom. When the water starts to slosh around in the bottom of the cooler, you don’t need the ground beef getting water-logged.

• Pack an insta-read thermometer in the top of the cooler so that you can monitor the cooler temperature. You can buy one for $12 at a hardware store or our site.

• Make certain that you get plenty of ice or frozen gel packs in your coolers. We prefer gel packs to eliminate melting water sloshing around in the cooler and cross-contaminating everything.

• Consider two coolers. Put fruit and pop in one and meat and dairy in the other. The pop cooler is going to be opened more frequently and will be harder to keep cool. You want your most hazardous foods exposed to open air as little as possible.

• If you are camping, place the coolers where they will be in the shade all day. During the day, throw an extra sleeping bag over the coolers for extra insulation.

• Drain any melt water from your coolers twice each day.

• Freeze your meat before packing it in the cooler. It will extend the cooler life of these perishables and help keep other items cool.

• Pack your coolers full even if you have to fill voids with non-perishables. When you open a cooler, cold air escapes and warm air rushes in. Eliminate the voids.

• If possible, transport your coolers in the car where there is air conditioning, not in the much warmer trunk. If you are going shopping for three hours, rather than leaving your coolers in the hot car, consider stashing them somewhere.

• Buy fresh ice often.

• At the end of the trip, quickly transfer any perishables to the refrigerator. Get ready for your next trip by sanitizing your cooler with a bleach and water solution. (It doesn’t take much bleach.)

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