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How to keep your food fresh on long road trips

There's nothing like a road trip to clear your mind and celebrate the end of summer. Here's low-tech tips on how to keep food fresh on long excursions.

Andy Baryer Producer/Host, GetConnected TV/Radio
Producer and co-host of the GetConnected TV/Radio show in Canada, Andy reviews new tech gadgets for the GetConnected TV show during the day, and writes about them for CNET at night. He can be heard weekly on the 'GetConnected Radio Show with Mike Agerbo' answering open line tech questions Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. PT across Corus Radio.
Andy Baryer
3 min read

Andy Baryer/CNET

As summer starts to wind down, many people plan for one last road trip with friends and family. Keeping your food fresh on long trips can be tough and messy. Here's how you can prevent food from going bad while you're on the road.

Now the solutions offered here are certainly not as high-tech as others in our travel series -- shout-out to Lexy Savvides for her in-depth articles on interactive maps, getting deals, and public Wi-Fi best practices -- but everything below is useful and can be easily implemented.

Pick the right cooler

Coolers come in many shapes, sizes, and price points, and while we don't yet have access to the coolest cooler, the ones available to us now can still get the job done. At the very least, your cooler should have a bottom drain to release water from the melted ice. Any midsize cooler with hinges on the top needs a strong latch to keep the lid sealed tightly to the body. The best coolers also have a lid gasket to create an airtight seal that traps cold air inside.

If possible use two coolers on long road trips. One for cold drinks and beverages that will be open more often and another for foods used less frequently. Open the food cooler as little as needed and keep it in a dark area like a trunk when not in use. Covering coolers with an old sleeping bag is another way to insulate it inside a trunk while you're on the road or at a campsite.

Make you own ice packs

Crushed ice cools food and drinks faster but ice blocks last longer and are better suited to keeping coolers cold. Making your own ice containers for the cooler is a great way to keep food cold without spending too much on crushed ice.

One solution: Pre-freeze drinking water in clean milk jugs or two-liter pop bottles. Those should produce large enough pieces of ice more appropriate for food. An added bonus: once the frozen containers melt, you'll have clean drinking water available for the ride back home.

Buy fresh food

To get the most out of your fruit and vegetables, ensure they are as fresh as possible. I recommend -- if you can time it this way -- buying fresh fruit and vegetables from your local farmers' market on the day you leave town. Fresh food from a farmers' market can last up to twice as long as food purchased from a supermarket.

Avoid washing produce if you plan to store them in vegetable storage bags. These bags won't extend the life of produce outside a refrigerator unless it's dry when packed. Dampness, humidity, or condensation inside the bag will lead to rot.

Pack logically

Full coolers stay colder longer, and food should be properly packed to ensure the lid does not stay open for extended periods of time. Store foods that will be consumed last on the bottom and often-used food on top of the cooler. Cold air travels down so ice should always be on top with pre-chilled cans and bottles on the bottom.

Perishable foods like meat and dairy should be stored on top of ice. To keep food dry, separate it into sealed plastic containers or zip-lock bags. If there is room left, use small, frozen water bottles to fill in open spaces and keep food cold.

Keep it cool

These tips should help you get more out of your next weekend getaway. Come back tomorrow for a few tips that'll keep your car cool on hot days.