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?
A Quick Food Bacteria Primer:
Bacteria is everywhere; in the air, on food, on most surfaces, and even us. Few people realize how pervasive, and vital bacteria actually is 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.
The reason dormant bacteria is safe is because it is not the bacteria that makes us sick at all, it’s the toxins in bacterial waste, and dormant bacteria doesn’t produce waste, – so no toxins. But when the food reaches temperatures above 40` the bacteria starts 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 make us sick.
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 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 you do:
- Only use plastic jugs with screw-on tops. Clean them with soapy water then rinse, and re-rinse with hot water.
- 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-cooler your camp 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 days 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 camps meals in the reverse order that you will be using them. For instance; food for the last meal goes in first, and 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.
This is a really helpful tip! 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.), their soft-side design make 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
Here are several examples of good camping coolers:
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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.
Coleman Extreme Coolers
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.
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.
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Notes and discussions:
Here are a few more pieces of camping gear you might be interested in:
- Camp Meals – How to Pack Smart
- Camp Meals – Planning Your Camping Menu
- Campfire Cooking Checklist
- Camp Tools and Accessories Checklist