Logistics: Food Safety
Keeping food cool
A thermoelectric cooler (ours is from Coleman) plugs into the car’s DC outlet and if continuously run should keep your food 40 degrees cooler than the surrounding area. The cooler needs a significant amount of air circulating around it for it to work most efficiently. We have ours under the bed loft near where a foot vent can continuously blow cool air on the unit. Our van allows for different settings for driver, passenger, and back, so we are able to have heat running in the front, and cold running in the back to keep the cooler working more efficiently.
Even though the cooler works to keep the food cold while running, it is important to keep some source of ice in the cooler for the in-between times and to provide a thermal buffer for the food. We started with plastic containers of frozen water. Once those melted, we will chip off ice from snowbanks when we see them. Block ice, while harder to find for sale in stores, lasts days longer than bags of ice cubes. The thermoelectric cooler can help keep the food cold, as can ice, but we have found the combination of the two work best even in 80 degree temperatures in Death Valley.
Organization is essential since the cooler unit is focused on one end of the cooler. It is important to prioritize the foods that need to be kept colder towards the cooler unit like meats, eggs, and dairy, while allowing breads, fruits, and veggies to be kept at the farther end of the unit.
The most problematic food with regards to food safety is meat. Meat is an excellent source of protein, and provides variety while on the road. It is important whenever you purchase raw meat to cook it within hours of purchase and cook all of the package, even if you are not going to eat it all at that meal. The leftovers can be immediately cooled and stored cool to be used in a later meal. Whenever possible, the safest way to purchase meat is to buy precooked meats (i.e. a rotisserie chicken versus a raw chicken). When purchasing eggs, products like Egg Beaters have been pasteurized and are a safer (and less messy) alternative to shell eggs.
Think of your refrigerator at home. A large part of it is probably dedicated to condiments, salad dressings, and hot sauces (at least mine is). These are items that are necessary on the road, but are a hassle to keep in the cooler. Most individual packets of dressing, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. are shelf-stable and easy to collect over time. Tiff had the benefit of being able to collect the leftovers from catering events at work, but these caches of packets can be started with every fast food run.
Even with a cold, efficient cooler, the best way to keep food safe is to not keep food very long. Frequent grocery store trips (every 2-3 days) will keep the food supply fresh and the cooler stocked with cold, safe foods.
- Cook all raw meats within hours of purchasing
- Don’t overload the cooler
- Only purchase cold food that will be eaten within 2-3 days
- Stock up on ice/snow whenever possible
- Purchase precooked or pasteurized foods when possible