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Cooler Safety

Packing a cooler for your trip? Follow these food safety guidelines:

When summer is near, it’s time to gear up and head for the great outdoors. However, there are a few things to remember before packing a cooler for your car, boat or camper.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service have provided a list of general rules to follow when preparing a meal for an outdoor trip.

  • For best food safety practices, use a cooler if car-camping or boating. Always keep frozen items in a cooler if hiking or backpacking. Try freezing water in clean, empty milk cartons to create a longer lasting cold source for coolers.
  • Keep raw foods away from ready-to-eat foods. Bacteria can be present in raw foods, sometimes causing illness if consumed.
  • Double wrap raw meat or poultry packages, or seal them in plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping on the other foods. Always pack raw meat at the bottom of your cooler. Freeze it, if possible, to help keep other foods cold.
  • Keeping your hands clean is necessary when preparing food in any environment. By using disposable wipes or biodegradable soap, you’ll cut back on the major risk of illness.
  • Avoid consuming water from unfamiliar sources. Pack bottled water, if possible, or use a water purification tablet to ensure water quality.
  • It can be difficult to keep hot foods at safe temperatures for extended periods of time. Instead, transport chilled foods and cook on-site when possible. Check your local camping supply store for lightweight pots and portable stoves.

These tips can keep you safe from harmful illnesses related to consumption. By following these precautions, you can make certain that your camping and outdoor adventures will be safe and fun.

Remember to burn any leftover foods instead of tossing them into a trash can. Leftover foods can attract animals.

For more information on outdoor food safety, contact your local WVU Extension county office.

You may also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET.

Last Reviewed: May 2022 
By: Gwen Crum, WVU Extension Family and Community Development Agent, Wood County