Transporting food: coolers, picnics, and bag lunches
When it comes to food, you can take it with you, but you need to do it safely, too.
Whether you’re tailgating, picnicking, or just packing your lunch, start with a clean
cooler or lunch pack and begin by preparing food using standard “clean” practices.
In addition, follow these special guidelines to keep your packed food safe wherever your travels take you
Bag lunches aren’t just for school kids.
Wherever you’re going, pack only the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunch to avoid worrying about the storage or safety of leftovers.
• Prepare cooked food, such as turkey,ham, chicken, and vegetable or pasta salads, ahead of time to allow for thorough chilling in the refrigerator.
Try preparing it the night before.
• Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. For best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes; add these ingredients later.
• Keep cooked food refrigerated until time to leave home. To keep lunches cold away from home, include at least two cold sources: two frozen gel packs(not smaller than 5×3-inches each) or a frozen gel pack with a frozen juice box or frozen bottle of water. Place them on top and bottom of the perishable food items to keep them cold. If a refrigerator is available, store perishable items there upon arrival. If you place your insulated bag in the refrigerator, leave the lid or bag open so that cold air can keep the food cold.
• Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty the water out, and then put in piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot. For safety, it needs to stay at 140 °F (60 °C) or above.
• When using the microwave oven to reheat lunches, cover food to hold in moisture and promote safe, even heating. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 °F (73.9 °C), making sure to use a food thermometer to be sure a safe temperature has been reached before consuming the food. Cook frozen convenience meals according to package instructions.
The cooler is the key to keeping cold food out of the “Danger Zone.” Use an aninsulated cooler with sufficient ice or icepacks to keep the food at 40 °F (4.44 °C)or below.
• As you prepare, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Keep cooked food refrigerated until it’s time to leave home.
• Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.
For your cold source: use frozen gel packs or ice. A block of ice keeps longer than ice cubes. Or, in advance, freeze clean, empty milk cartons filled with water to make
blocks of ice. Add the ice first, then the food.
• Pack smart! Pack usable quantities in reverse order:
The first foods packed should be the last foods to be used.
There is one exception: Pack raw meat or poultry below ready-to-eat foods to prevent raw meat or poultry juices from dripping on the other foods.
Take foods in the smallest quantity needed (e.g., a small jar of mayonnaise).
• Consider packing drinks in a separate cooler so the food cooleris not opened frequently.
• It is important to pack an appliance thermometer in your cooler. Since the food in the cooler should be kept at40 °F (4.44 °C) or below, you need to be able to monitor it.
• Before you leave home, find out if there’s a source of clean water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or, pack clean cloths and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
• At your destination, keep the cooler in the shade, and try to insulate it with a blanket, tarp, or poncho. Keep the lid closed and avoid repeated openings.
Replenish the ice if it melts.
• Remember that the rule for keeping food safe changes during warmer weather. While food can be kept out of the cooler for 2 hours at normal temperatures, if the weather is above 90 °F (32.2 °C) outside, food should be returned to a cooler or refrigerated after only 1 hour.
• Discard all used food packaging and bags — they could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness, so don’t reuse them.
• Discard all perishable foods if there is no longer ice in the cooler, or if the gel packs are no longer frozen.