We can all agree that food poisoning is the last thing you want while dealing with the elements in the great outdoors. If you’ve never experienced the pain, discomfort and outright awfulness that comes with food poisoning then you might want to keep it that way. We’re going to help you do just that with our guide on how to keep food cold while camping.
Unfortunately, because of how hard it can be to do this, the risk of food poisoning is higher in such environments.
The problem is that it’s very difficult to keep your produce, meats, and milk fresh while moving from one spot to another with nothing but a backpack to hold your stuff. But, through experience and some ingenuity, campers over the years have come up with effective food preservation methods that work to this day.
How to Keep Camping Food Cold and Fresh
Read on for tips on how to keep food cold while camping to help you prepare for your next camping trip.
1. Get a Quality Cooler for Your Food and Drinks
Coolers are ubiquitous with campsites and any other outdoor activity like chilling on the beach or going to a festival.
That’s because coolers are designed to maintain low temperatures and are the perfect environment to keep food and beverages cool and fresh when you don’t have a fridge around. But, since there are so many coolers on the market, you should be careful of the less effective models out there that don’t provide as much preservation as others.
The more it costs, the more effective a cooler usually is in keeping food cold while camping. Quality coolers typically offer better insulation and are made tough from long-lasting and sturdy materials. It might be helpful to use a thermometer to check on the cooler’s temperature from the inside. That way, you can be sure that it’s the perfect temperature to keep your food fresh.
On the other hand, cheaper coolers only work for a couple of hours and cannot be relied upon to keep your food fresh for long periods of time. Not even for a few days. Rather opt for a high-quality cooler that can keep your food fresh for several days, even in hot summer temperatures.
Some of the high-end models come with extras such as storage compartments, shelves, and even convenient bottle openers. They may even include a warranty to offer better value for money.
2. Cook the Food Way in Advance
One way to keep your meals fresh is to cook the food in advance. We all know about the benefits of meal preparation by now when you’re planning your camping trip, particularly as it relates to convenience.
But, when done outdoors this method can backfire. For instance, you need to reheat the food properly before you eat it and start with perishable foods first because it tends to go bad the fastest. As for frozen foods, you should try to keep them at the bottom of the pile where it’s cold. This will help to keep them frozen.
Otherwise, you can pre-make pretty much anything and freeze it prior to your trip so that it stays fresh for longer. This includes entire meals like homemade burgers, stir-fry, spaghetti and so on. You’ll definitely thank yourself for prepping your meals because it’ll cut cooking time in half while you’re out camping.
3. Use Dry Ice Packs to Regulate Temperature
Most coolers come with ice packs that you can freeze prior to your trip and place at the bottom of your cooler in order to regulate the temperature. Dry ice packs can really bolster up your efforts to keep your cooler and the food inside it as cold as possible when camping.
But, not all ice packs are made equal and the complimentary ones that come with your cooler are usually not the best quality. If that’s the case, then you should consider investing in pricier and better quality ice packs. They’re available online and from big box stores.
Dry ice packs are usually small and lightweight which means they’ll leave enough room for your food inside the cooler.
4. Place Your Food at the Bottom of the Cooler
When regulating food temperature, it’s important to note that cold air sinks while hot air rises. This means that frozen or items that you want to keep cold should go at the bottom of the cooler.
If you can, try to place a cold barrier in between frozen food and perishables and drinks to avoid cross-contamination or a temperature increase when you open the cooler. Things like ice packs or an insulation blanket can be helpful at locking in the cold air, especially when placed directly over the cold food.
5. Put the Cooler Away from the Sun
This is another no-brainer. You shouldn’t leave your cooler in direct sunlight. But, this sometimes happens when people get so excited about getting to their destination that they completely forget to take care of their cooler and other items that they need to actually enjoy a comfortable stay.
It’s crucial that you keep your cooler in a shady environment and away from direct sunlight. This will help to maintain a cool internal temperature and keep your food fresh and cold for longer.
6. Don’t Open the Cooler Unless You Really Need Something
This should go without saying. Just like you shouldn’t open your fridge frequently, you shouldn’t open your cooler unless you need something.
That’s because you want to trap the cold inside the cooler to preserve your food. Every time you open the cooler, a little bit of warm air gets inside and compromises its ability to maintain your food.
The best way to avoid this is to take things in bulk. For instance, get several drinks at a time instead of grabbing one and coming back for another. Alternatively, you can have two coolers; one for today’s refreshment and another for tomorrow’s refreshment.
7. Place a Thermometer Inside the Cooler
The best way to keep track of your cooler’s temperature is to place a thermometer inside it. This makes it easier to determine the freshness of the food inside.
However, you should know what temperature to keep each food item if you’re to benefit from this method. That way, you’ll know whether or not it’s safe to eat based on the temperature of your cooler.
8. Get Only Food That Can Last
As a rule, it’s best to not bring food that you know will go bad quickly, no matter how much you enjoy eating it. Keep in mind that you’re camping in the wild, and not in your backyard so you should exclude foods that are going to take effort to maintain because there are lots of risks that come with food that has gone “bad.”
The good news is snacks have really improved both in quality and variety over the years. You can get the same amount of nutrients from things like trail mix, dried fruits, nuts and beef jerky as raw food that could go wrong. Things like instant rice and instant noodles as well as dehydrated food are easy to maintain and won’t take up a lot of space.
There are plenty of healthy camping snacks and foods that you can purchase from your local supermarket or online to help reduce your risk of getting food poisoning while trying to live your best life. Or you can also cook the food while you’re camping to be safe.
9. Freeze Your Water If You’re Traveling in Summer
In addition to placing dry ice packs inside your cooler, you should also freeze your water beforehand, especially if you’re traveling during hot summer weather. For best results, bottle the water a few days before your trip and freeze it so that it’s completely solid by the time you place it in your cooler and leave for your trip.
This will help to keep your water cold for longer and the frozen water bottles will function as added ice packs thus making the overall environment colder as well. Of course, it might take a while for the water to melt, thus slowing down the time it takes for you to drink it.
To counteract this, bring a normal water bottle with you as well so that you have water to drink while waiting for your other water bottles to melt.
10. Always Have a Plan B
If you still need a backup plan after learning how to keep food cold while camping, then you should bring extra snacks, drinks, and foodstuffs that won’t go bad. This includes things like canned food, healthy dried snacks, and water bottles.
These can really come in handy if the food in your cooler gets spoiled and it’ll definitely help you to avoid food poisoning.
Now that you know how to keep food cold while camping, we hope you’ll apply one or more of these tips to keep your food fresh and enjoy a pleasant camping trip with no “food accidents” along the way.
Most of these tips are easy to apply and only require a little bit of time and little investment on your part.