How to Travel with Food

Do you travel to family reunions or covered-dish events several times a year? If so, knowing how to travel with food is a must. It’s not as easy as you might think. You have to decide whether the hot or cold travel method is best based on travel time and dish type.

To help you make the decision, keep these basic concepts in mind. Hot air rises, while cold air falls. Even if foods should be served hot, you don’t have to keep it hot while traveling.

To help you enjoy your reunion or covered dish event, here are a few ideas to make it easier to cook for a crowd and travel with food.

Keep Foods Cold While Traveling

When we say cold, we mean keep foods continually at or below 40 °F. Depending on how long you will be traveling with food, this is often the best option to keep food at a safe temperature.

  • Use an electric cooler/warmer or mini-refrigerator when possible. These are simply great when your destination is 30 minutes or more away! Just plug it into the cigarette lighter spot and and go. You don’t have to bother with ice or cold packs.
  • Use the ingredients to help keep food cool. For example, add frozen peas in a green salad. Make the salad as you normally would but don’t allow the peas to thaw first. If you have a short distance to go, the frozen peas will thaw and help keep your salad cold until it’s time to eat.
  • Pre-cool the ice chest before you begin packing it. Add a plastic bag of ice to the cooler and leave it closed for a while.
  • Place ice packs or bags of ice in the bottom of the cooler before adding food. Then, add the food or cool drinks into the cooler. After the food is in the cooler, place more ice on top before closing for transport.
  • Plan your packing strategy. Once you are ready to pack the cooler, think about what you will need first. Pack it last so that it’s on top and you won’t have to dig for it. Place what you will need last on the bottom.
  • Avoid transporting the cooler in the trunk. Keep it in the backseat so the air conditioning in the car will help the items in the cooler remain cool. You may even want to insulate the cooler by placing a blanket around it.
  • Fill the cooler as full as possible to help it remain cold longer. As long as the cold foods remain cold – those which have mayonnaise or dairy products – they should be safe for your family and friends to eat.
  • Don’t open the cooler unless it’s an emergency. Opening the cooler allows the cold air to escape and the temperature rises each time that happens.

Keep Foods Hot While Traveling

Hot is not an arbitrary temperature when you travel with food.  To keep your hot food safe, the temperature must be kept constant at or above 140 °F.  This can be hard to do because your food can dry out due to the heat, especially if your destination is more than a half hour away. Your best bet is to use an electric cooler/warmer, like the one seen above. If you don’t have an electric travel cooler/warmer, your best option is to cool the food and reheat it once you reach your reunion, potluck, or covered-dish event.

  • Use a thermal carrying case. For economy, make sure the case can accommodate hot or cold food.
  • Remember to heat up the hot pack and place it in the carrying case, right before you leave, to provide as much heat as possible.
  • Use an insulated cooler or ice chest to keep food warm.
  • Wrap warmed dishes with dish towels or newspaper to help insulate and keep the dishes warm.
  • Pack the dishes as tightly as possible in the cooler so the heat from one dish will help the others remain warm.
  • Try to use containers of a similar shape that stack well together. This can help save cooler space and keep things warm.
  • For longer trips, store cookware in the trunk rather than putting food in the original odd-shaped cooking container into the cooler.

When you know how to travel with food, you can be assured that the food you share with family and friends is safe. This peace of mind will undoubtedly enable you and others to have a wonderful time from start to finish.

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