How to keep food frozen while traveling

Keeping food cold when traveling might be a bit tricky, particularly if you’re going for long stretches in isolated locations or camping in the wilderness.

Luckily, there are multiple possible solutions to satisfy your cooling demands. Here we will share tips on ways of keeping your food cool while traveling.

We will also review the products available, varying from affordable to premium. No matter your particular needs or the kind of food you have to keep cold, you will surely come across something that is suitable for you.

How to transport frozen food

A cooler packed with ice is the simplest way to ensure frozen foods are kept frozen, or at a minimum, cool enough to eat them safely later. Once the temperature of food gets over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it will still have a shelf life of approximately two hours before bacteria increases to an unsafe level. Luckily, frozen food that has been traveling for a couple of hours inside a properly packed cooler can be placed back in the freezer when you reach your final destination, and the same cooler can prolong the safe storage life of your food when you are going camping. So here’s how to do it properly!

  • Pick your cooler

Low-cost foam coolers are good for keeping food cool, particularly for short-term journeys. For a more extended road trip or if you are camping by car, sturdy fiberglass or plastic cooler is a more robust choice. If you are planning to carry plenty of food, then two compact or mid-sized coolers might be easier to transport than one big one, particularly since you have to fully load the coolers to maximize cooling capacity, and they can become quite heavy over a short period of time.

  • Pack up the ice

Before you load your cooler with food, add some ice or a couple of frozen gel packs inside the cooler and put the cover on top for an hour to prevent the frozen food from consuming energy while the container is cooling. Ice blocks and gel packs keep the longest, though if you have none, place ice cubes in a leak-proof plastic container, then add a bit of water and freeze the container to create a block of ice. Have enough ice on hand in each shape to refill any empty spaces in the cooler once the food is packed.

  • Tight packaging

Packages of raw meat should go in the bottom of a cooler, where they won’t be able to spill onto other foods and possibly mess them up. When carrying just one cooler, put the most commonly used foods at the top. When you have more than one cooler, be sure to pack one with the most commonly needed items, like condiments and drinks. Also, put food in food containers or closable plastic bags to keep it dry when the ice starts to melt. Add some ice to the bottom of the cooler and around the food when you pack, yet be sure to save most of it for the upper part of the cooler to keep an even temperature since cold air will drop to the bottom. Fully pack the cooler to keep food cold longer.

  • Pack and store

In order to further insulate the cooler and keep it cold even longer, wrap it up in a couple of thick towels or a blanket. Keep it stored somewhere in the primary compartment of your car and avoid placing it in the trunk, where it may warm up faster away from the air conditioning. When camping, be sure to store the cooler in the shade, covering it with a tarp when it isn’t needed, and reaching for it minimally.

How do coolers keep things cold?

Cooler bags are based on an older concept – ice coolers. Earlier coolers/iceboxes were typically made of Styrofoam, making them unyielding to versatility. These were quite often big and bulky and not suited for everyday use, let alone their brief service life and effect on the environment. Nowadays, cooler bags are available in a wide range of forms. For instance, Out of the Woods provides a messenger-style bag for squared coolers designed for easy packing and storage. These soft cooler bags let you have a bit more wiggle room.

These bags come with insulation that enables them to hold items hot and cold. The insulation works as a shield from the average outdoor temperature. Most cooler bags can hold items cool for approximately 12 hours and are preferably used with cold packs to keep things cool for slightly longer.

How long does ice last in a cooler?

Besides insulation, the majority of coolers use some kind of ice to get stuff nice and cool. Ice in a cooler could hold for as long as a week, though, based on whether you’re going to go with block ice, dry ice, or ice cubes.

  • Dry ice – 18 to 24 hours
  • Ice cubes – 1 to 2 days
  • Block ice – 5 to 7 days
  • Dry Ice

While it may appear quite unexpected, it is possible to use dry ice in your coolers. Simply cover it with several sheets of newspaper and put it delicately for your upcoming camping trip.
Just remember: It is not safe to leave dry ice in your car over a long period of time, as well as touch it with your bare hands. Take great care when using this kind of ice.

  • Ice cubes

You can easily get these bags in a wide range of different sizes at any grocery store or fuel station. These are an excellent choice for outdoor picnics, BBQs, or day-long gatherings.

  • Block ice

If you’re looking to host a charity event, block ice might be the right choice. This kind of ice is typically available from a wholesale supplier and is slightly pricier than cubes.

how to freeze food for picnic

How to pack a cooler for a road trip

Whether your family is heading to the beach, on a cross-country road trip, or camping away this summer, you’ll have to perfect the skill of packing your family cooler securely and efficiently. If you don’t prepare or pack your food correctly for the journey, it could mean a lot more than just a disappointing meal. It could actually mean exposing your kids to damaging, possibly fatal germs. Below are useful tips on packing your cooler and keeping it cool while your family is having a bit of recreation in the great outdoors.

Prepare food for packing

  • Consider pre-cooking food before you travel so you will just need to warm it up on the fire or camp stove. If possible, do not pack completely raw, perishable foods.
  • Refrigerate any food you plan to put in the cooler ahead of time. It is best to keep them in the refrigerator overnight so they are good and cold before they go into the cooler.
  • Freeze items like juice boxes, meats, and hot dogs so they can thaw slowly in the cooler.
  • Keep everything double wrapped in plastic wrap and in a Ziploc bag or waterproof containers to avoid cross-contamination.
  • If you’re going with a baby who will be bottle-fed, it’s safer to get bottles prepared and packed with sterile water and ready to go and have powdered baby food pre-measured ready to go for mixing a bottle with minimal effort. No need to worry about pre-mixed bottles spoiling.
  • Whole fresh fruits and vegetables do not have to be put in the cooler, and neither do bags of baby food. You can toss them in a carrying bag and save space in the cooler.

Packing the cooler bag

  • On day trips, a lot of families choose to use soft cooler bags as they are lightweight and easy to transport. But for longer trips, opt for heavier cooler bags. In fact, it’s a smart practice to pack two – one for drinks and the other for perishables.
  • Pack your coolers with several inches of ice. Make your own ice by freezing milk cartons, big closeable freezer bags, as well as water bottles that are 2/3 full of water. Firm blocks of ice are slower to melt than ice cubes.
  • Store loose ice (cubes) that you want to be used for drinks in a separate bin to prevent contamination.

How to keep a cooler cold the longest?

Before you pack your cooler on your upcoming overnight trip to the campsite or spending a day at the park, there are several important things you might consider doing to keep your ice-and ultimately your food-remaining cold the longest possible time.

Indeed, perhaps some of the toughest things about using a cooler are making certain the ice won’t melt too fast, turning your food mushy (not to say not safe), or your drinks warm. Luckily, a few housewares and a couple of brilliant packing hacks will be enough to prolong your cooler’s usefulness.

1. Pre-cool your cooler

Ice lasts longer and your food stays colder if your cooler is already chilled when you pack it. If it’s winter outside or you have the luxury of a walk-in cooler, chill it down overnight. A few sacrificed blocks of ice placed in the cooler for 24 hours before packing is best. Block ice works better for this purpose and may even be good for a second trip if you store it in a freezer between uses.

2. Put only frozen/cold items in your cooler.

It almost goes without saying that you only put frozen or cold items in your cooler, but maybe not! When you pack a cooler for maximum efficiency, you should load it with frozen or well-chilled items straight from the freezer or refrigerator. We’re not talking about chilling drinks for a backyard party, where you can refill with more ice. Using cold or frozen items is about packing a cooler to keep things frozen or chilled for many days.

3. Hold the coldest at the bottom

The main idea when packing your cooler is that cool air drops to the bottom. For this reason, the things you need to remain cold for the longest period of time have to be placed at the bottom of the cooler. This includes frozen things like meat, frozen fruits, and vegetables, as well as even the ice cream for the children at camp – regardless of age!

4. Make sure you pack empty spaces with frozen bottles of drinking water

Filled coolers actually keep things cooler than partly packed coolers. Prevent spaces between the frozen things you put in the cooler. When creating layers in your ice chest, be sure they are properly packed and not thrown together in a loose manner. In addition, be sure that you have lots of ice packed in and around the food pieces.

One of the greatest ways to accomplish this is to get 16-ounce water bottles and freeze them. They are a really handy size to fit around other bulky objects and press into place wherever there’s a gap. When they defrost, just open them up and drink! Having water bottles is a really nice way to keep clean, fresh, cold water at your camping spot all the time.

5. Put a layer of ice packs or blocks

Right on top of the frozen food and water bottles comes the first layer of ice. Large chunks of ice last longer than cubes or smaller pieces, so use block ice if you have space or this refreezeable kind. Keep in mind the two fundamental basics – A) cold airdrops, and B) full coolers remain colder than partly filled coolers.

6. Lock the cold with an insulating sheet

When you have the room, add a sheet of insulation on top of this layer of bigger blocks of ice. You can pick up a piece of foam insulation at your local hardware store and trim it to precisely match your cooler. The additional insulation will keep warm air from dripping onto the items in the lower layer which you want to stay frozen whenever you open the cover.

7. Put the items that you will need frequently

On top of the loose ice, put the food items you will want to access most often. These are things like condiments, hot dogs, cheese, butter, eggs, bacon, milk, etc. These are items you will be picking up at least several times a day. If you have room for it, put an insulating layer on top of the ice before you put those condiments in. Spread out more frozen water bottles to keep them cold as well.

8. Add more frozen drinking water bottles

Again, fill up any open spaces with 16-ounce frozen drinking water bottles. As the water bottles thaw and you take them out to drink, you should replace them with more frozen bottles. Since they are at the top, they can be easily replaced without disturbing and warming the frozen contents at the bottom of the cooler.

9. Cover with a blanket of cold

Using a layer of fabric is a little-known trick, but it does more to keep your cooler cold than any other! Place an insulating blanket over the essentials. This can be a piece of an old wool blanket or even an old towel. It should be cut or folded to fit as snugly as possible in your cooler. When you open the lid to get something, lift enough of the corner to take out what you want to get. When you’re done, drop the mat back into place. You won’t believe the difference it makes.

How long will food stay cold in a cooler

How long will food stay cold in a cooler

The following is a basic guideline for storing food in a cooler. It is assumed that your cooler is very cold, the food is kept at 40 degrees or colder, and there is a lot of ice in it. This gives you a little margin for error if children frequently take out the popcorn, the cooler is in the sun, lots of warm foods are stored in the cooler, and other hazards are present in the cooler.

Once you know your cooler has been over forty degrees, play it safe and dispose of potentially hazardous foods like meats and egg-based dressings. Perishable foods become potentially hazardous if they have been sitting at forty degrees for more than four hours. We recommend being on the safe side and setting the temperature limit at three hours.

How to keep groceries cold in the car?

So how can you keep your food safe?

  • Insulated bags could be helpful to store your food

Insulated bags can aid in maintaining groceries cool and double as shopping bags which can be used again. These rugged pockets are also suitable for camping and picnics.

  • Keep groceries in the front, rather than in the trunk

The trunk of your vehicle gets much warmer than the rest of the car since there is no air circulation there. Keep your groceries in the car’s main compartment, possibly close to the air conditioner ventilation slots.

  • Bundle up cold food items

Keep your cold foods together. That way, the popsicles, fish, sausage, and milk foods all aid one another in remaining cold.

Keep in mind, it is impossible to be overly cautious about food safety. In fact, chicken and turkey that are not correctly stored can be fatal. If in doubt, head home and store your groceries away during these dog days of summer.


So as you will notice, keeping food cold while you travel can be accomplished fairly effortlessly and inexpensively. We hope this article was helpful and make sure to check out the rest of the site for more great content like this. Thanks so much for reading!

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Steve Toomey

The main inspirer and creator of this resource. In passion about gardening, home decor & interior. Also, likes to DIY projects and interesting in house gadgets. Moreover, he likes to find out how to make cooking easier and simple with kitchen gadgets. Read More.

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