If there is one thing that can quickly put a dampener on your big camping trip, discovering spills, container breakages or cross contamination is it. We're talking about cooler disasters. There is nothing worse than arriving at your campsite only to realise all your food has gone bad! Packing a cooler or fridge/freezer sounds simple enough, but there is an art to it.
To ensure your food stays safe, cold and edible throughout the duration of the trip, we have come up with a guide on how to properly pack your cooler or fridge/freezer.
1. Choosing A Cooler or Fridge/Freezer
The first step is selecting your cooling device. The material and thickness of the foam will determine how long your cooler will keep ice frozen for. If you are after something that will sustain food for a few hours throughout the day, a Collapsible Cooler will do the trick. The best part about the collapsible is, once you've finished your picnic lunch, you can fold it up to save on space in the back of the car. If you plan on heading out for more than a few hours, a Hardbody Cooler will see you through a big day trip thanks to their high density thermal insulation and easy clean plastic interior. For anything more than an overnight stay, you may want to look at purchasing a fridge/freezer. They are battery operated and can be charged via solar power, through the car or by power pack. The 45L Single Zone and 80L Dual Zone are great options as they can be adjusted from fridge to freezer and will keep your food frozen or fresh for days on end.
2. Cooler Prep
Your cooler or fridge/freezer should always be cleaned and dried thoroughly between uses to ensure you are always starting afresh. Hot soapy water for drink coolers and a bleach disinfectant will do the trick for when raw meat has been stored. If you are using a fridge/freezer like the 45L Single Zone or 80L Dual Zone, plug the 240V AC power adapter and cable into the fridge power socket and connect to a suitable 240V AC power source to cool overnight. This will allow the core temperature to be as cold as possible. For coolers, a way to really lower the temperature is to fill the unit with cold or ice water for several hours just before packing it.
3. Food Prep
To save space, you'll want to prep as much food at home as you can. Placing food into leak-proof containers and removing any excess packaging will also help. Be sure to refrigerate and freeze anything and everything you can before packing the fridge/freezer or cooler. This will turn food into (temporary) ice blocks and will maintain the temperature. Tip: Don't freeze the food you plan on eating on the first day.
4. Ice Selection
A great strategy is freezing bottles of water to use as ice blocks. Once they've melted, you will have chilled water to drink so it is a win win. Beside frozen water bottles, the best ice foundation is either block ice or large reusable freezer packs. Cubed ice also works well to fill in the voids between food items and can be used in cups. Combine ice blocks with cubes and you will have one COOL cooler.
5. Packing Order
The packing order of your cooler or fridge/freezer is one of the most important steps. Place perishable foods like meat or diary at the top and it might be at risk of heating up. Start with a block of ice on the bottom and add your 'perishables'. Work your way up with items that are of less concern, sectioning them into meal categories for easy finding. Play it safe and assume everything may leak so make sure all containers facing up. Tip: Air pockets inside your cooler will accelerate melting so fill any gaps with cubed ice.