Camping Tips – Pre-cool Your Camp Cooler   Recently updated !

Full Camp Cooler
Pre-Cool Your Camping Coolers
Save Money and Keep You Camp Food Safer

Most campers know they have to keep the food in the coolers cold to prevent spoilage, but few understand that the real danger isn’t spoilage, – it’s bacterial growth.

You can see and smell spoilage, but not the bacteria that will make you sick.

Now, the question is … how cold is cold enough to be safe?

Camp Food bacteriaA Quick Food Bacteria Primer:
Bacteria is everywhere; in the air, on food, on most surfaces, and even on us. Few people realize how pervasive, and vital bacteria actually are to life. That fresh cut of meat from the store is already loaded with bacteria when you buy it, but as long as the temperature is below 40`, the bacteria is dormant and safe.

Bacteria in cooked turkeyThe reason dormant bacteria is safe is that it is not the bacteria that make us sick at all, it’s the toxins in bacterial waste, and dormant bacteria don’t produce waste, – so no toxins. However, when the food reaches temperatures above 40` the bacteria start moving around, reproducing and producing waste containing the toxins that make us sick. After just four hours at temperatures above 40` most food bacteria will produce enough waste and toxins to affect us.

No amount of cooking can make contaminated food safe. Cooking kills the bacteria, but not the toxins it left behind.

Be safe, make sure your coolers maintain temperatures below 40`

A tested cooler fact:

Two gallon-sized milk jug blocks of ice placed in a cooler loaded with food straight from the store, in 80` weather, will only cool the contents to about 45` after one hour.

Pre-cooling your coolers before you load them will get that temperature down to 40` quicker and make your ice last longer.

If you have the freezer space to freeze a few recycled milk jugs of water you can make your coolers perform much better and save money on ice. If not, you may have to spend a couple of extra dollars on ice to make sure your camp food will stay in the safety zone while you are camping.

If you can do the milk jugs, here is what to do:

  1. Only use plastic jugs with screw-on tops. Clean them with soapy water then rinse, and re-rinse them with hot water.
  2. Fill the jugs about 3/4 full, (this allows for expansion), and freeze them. Four jugs make life easier, but you can get by with two.

Pre-cool your coolers by putting one or two jugs, (or any kind of ice), in them at least two hours before you plan to load them with food. When you are ready to fill the coolers, refresh the jugs or ice. If you used loose ice, be sure to drain off any water.

Tips to help your cooler do its job:

  • Freeze all the food you can before you put it in the cooler. (except the first day’s supply of course) And that can be just about everything except dairy stuff.
  • Block ice works best, but you can make it last even longer by using gallon or qt.-size Ziploc freezer bags of cubed ice stuffed around the food and in any remaining open space.
  • If you can’t freeze it, at least refrigerate it first. Mustard, dressings, and other condiments should all be at least chilled before going in the coolers. Loading stuff straight from the store bags will just steal more cooling -reducing the effectiveness of the ice.
  • As much as possible, try to pack the food for camp meals in the reverse order that you will be using them. For instance; food for the last meal goes in first, and the first meal last. This will help reduce open cooler time because you won’t have to have it open to rummage around for the food you need.
  • Keep the food cooler and the drinks cooler separated at the campsite. Maybe it’s just human nature, but you would be surprised at how often someone getting a drink will also open the food cooler – if the coolers are side-by-side

Although the drinks cooler is not quite the bacterial safety risk that the food ice chest is, you can also help it keep things colder longer by making sure all your beverages are chilled first, before you load them into the cooler.

Camp Tip: Organize with collapsible camp coolers.

collapsible camp cooler

All your camp coolers don’t have to be those heavy rigid coolers. Of course, you will need at least one for your ice and drinks, and long-term cold storage, but if you use the smart camping tip about freezing most of your camp meals food, these collapsible coolers are great.
They will keep your cold items safely frozen or chilled until you need them, you can use different colors to organize your camp meal storage by days, (red for Saturday, blue for Sunday, etc.), and their soft-side design makes them easier to cram into that last available spot between the other camping gear, and best of all they collapse when empty, (much easier to pack out of camp).
Collapsible Camp Coolers

Note: The links for the camping gear discussed are my own Amazon Affiliate links, (which I only use to recommend quality camping gear – I’m a big Amazon fan).

Here are several examples of good camping coolers:
** I highly recommend for camping supplies. Their prices are usually lower than our local camping stores, the free standard 3-5 day shipping is almost always faster than that, and their return policy is even better than Walmart’s.


Coleman is probably the most respected name of all when it comes to camping gear and equipment, and their line of “Extreme” Coolers will live up to your expectations.

Ranging in sizes from 28-qts. to 120-qts, wheeled and non-wheeled, this line of camping coolers is rated to keep ice for up to five days in 90` weather. See available selections of Coleman Extreme Coolers


Are you ready for the “Cadillac” of coolers? Coleman’s line of “Steel-Belted” coolers can take whatever your camping travels can dish out.

These 54-qt all-steel case coolers are rated to hold up to 85 cans, and with a solid-steel latch, this could be your ultimate drink cooler. See a selection of available Coleman Steel-belted Coolers


If you need a smaller cooler, either for special purposes or for hiking or day excursions, then models like these Igloo Playmate camping coolers, or Coleman’s 16-qt personal coolers might be just what you were looking for.

See a selection of available Igloo Playmate Camp Coolers


Only a Sampling:
The listings above were only to give you some ideas about the function, usability, and cost of different types of camping coolers. You can find dozens of variations of each style, – some good, some not-so-good.
See: How to pick a good camp cooler or ice chest

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