Summer usually means travel, somewhere. Whether it is the beach, mountains, or just a day-trip it is fun to hit the road and take along favorite travel foods. It may be picnic foods such as pimento cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, and deviled eggs; or food to cook on the grill upon arrival at the destination. Regardless, food safety is important. Plan to pack the food carefully and safely this summer.
Start with a clean cooler with plenty of cold source. What can be used as cold sources? Ice, frozen gel-packs, frozen bottled water, and frozen food are all great cold sources that will keep the cooler temperature safe. Dangerous bacteria can multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, the temperature danger zone. Monitor the temperature with a refrigerator thermometer placed in the warmest part of the cooler. Food left in the danger zone for more than two hours should be discarded, one hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
Packing a cooler correctly is important. Start by taking perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer. Cooking meat and poultry before packing is also a good idea. Raw meat and poultry can be frozen in order to stay cool longer; wrap carefully and pack into a separate cooler, if possible. Always pack raw meat and poultry in the bottom of the cooler or in a separate cooler to protect other perishable and ready-to-eat foods from cross-contamination. Raw meat and poultry juices can contain dangerous bacteria. Use a double wrap in re-sealable zipper food storage bags or disposable containers with snap-on lids to keep raw meat and poultry juices from contaminating foods, utensils, and surfaces.
A full cooler will maintain cold temperatures and keep food out of the temperature danger zone longer. Replenish the cooler with ice as food is removed. While traveling, plan to store the cooler inside the air-conditioned vehicle while traveling and insulate the cooler by wrapping it with the picnic blanket. Keep the cooler out of the direct sun and in a shady location once the destination is reached. It’s just as important to keep the cooler lid closed as it is to keep the refrigerator door closed at home. Take all needed items out at one time, instead of one at a time. Pack drinks in a separate cooler that will be opened more often, so the temperature of the cooler with perishable foods does not rise into the danger zone.
Upon returning home take time to empty and wash the cooler thoroughly with hot, soapy water; then rinse and air dry before storage. And, repeat the cleaning process again before using the cooler for the next trip. Take time to pack coolers carefully to keep perishable foods cold and out of the temperature danger zone. Keep summer time enjoyable by hitting the road with good food that is safe to eat.
For more information about food safety and preservation, contact Teresa Adkins, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent at UGA Decatur County Extension, 248-3033.