Whether you're camping in the great outdoors, taking a scenic road trip, picnicking, or tailgating, keeping fresh food properly chilled at a food-safe temperature is always a challenge when you're miles away from the nearest fridge. Here are smart tips for packing a cooler or ice chest so food stays cold longer and nothing gets soggy or crushed.

By Vanessa Greaves
Updated August 04, 2020
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How to Pack a Cooler: Top Tips

  • Chill all food and drinks before packing them.
  • Seal food in waterproof containers to keep it dry and uncrushed.
  • Pack food in layers (see illustration below) with ice between the layers.
  • Keep the cooler as full as possible.
  • If you can, have a separate cooler for drinks so the cooler doesn't lose its cool every time someone opens it to get a drink.
  • Keep the cooler in the shadiest spot you can find.
  • Don't drain melted ice water — it actually helps keep food cool longer. It's true!
Meredith

How to Pack a Cooler: An Illustrated Guide

Instead of tossing everything in randomly, try to pack your cooler in layers. Use the illustration below as a guide. Bottles of frozen water form the bottom layer, sealed packets of frozen meats are the next layer, with cold drinks on top of the meat. If you're using a separate cooler for drinks, then just use layers of ice instead. After the drinks or ice/ fit a rack into the cooler and place sealed packets of unfrozen foods on the rack. The topmost layer should be the fragile items such as eggs and fruits, or salads in sealed containers.

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