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Is Your Cooler Healthy?

Don't get caught with an unhealthy cooler.  A cooler that's not cool can lead to spoiled food! You can't have a picnic if your food has gone bad.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Start with a clean cooler. You can make a safe all-purpose cleaner by mixing 2 Tbsp baking soda with 1 pint warm water in a spray bottle. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut grease.
  2. Start with some solid ice. Ice cubes tend to melt quickly and make a mess. Make your own ice blocks by freezing water in plastic milk jugs.
  3. Don't get caught with an unhealthy cooler.  A cooler that's not cool can lead to spoiled food! You can't have a picnic if your food has gone bad.Start with frozen or very cold foods. Pack foods and drinks directly from refrigerator and freezer to cooler. Freeze as many items (like fresh meat and juice boxes) as possible. They’ll help keep other stuff cold.
  4. Pack items in order of use. Place items that you will need last at the bottom of the cooler; first things to be eaten at the top. The less you move things around, the colder everything will stay.
  5. Pack in portion-size, leak-proof containers. Use containers that hold the amount of food that you will need at one time. Make sure that lids fit tightly or put containers into zip-lock plastic bags.
  6. Pack foods separately. Cross-contamination between foods increases the risk of food-borne illnesses. Keep cooked and uncooked foods separate. Pack all meat products away from other foods.
  7. Keep coolers in the trunk. The goal is to keep all food and beverages away from heat and direct sun as much as possible. In vans or trucks, keep your cooler covered or under other luggage.
  8. Keep coolers in the shade. Once you arrive at your picnic spot or camping site, place the cooler away from the sun. Cover with a blanket or tarp if there is no natural shade available.
  9. Keep coolers closed as much as possible. Every time you open a cooler the inside temperature warms up slightly. Close the lid completely after each use -- place a heavy object on top if necessary.
  10. Clean your cooler when you return home using baking soda, water and vinegar. Remember, using chlorine bleach is dangerous. The use of chlorine bleach creates dangerous toxins such as dioxin, furans and other organochlorines. Once loose in the environment, these chemicals accumulate in both people and animals. Hundreds of studies have shown a direct link between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental and reproductive disorders.

Source: NCPH, Adapted by the NC NET Program from Eat Right Montana materials