RoadTrip America

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Road Food: Articles by Dennis Weaver
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Cooler Cuisine: Tips for Fresh and Healthy Road Food, continued from page 1


Cooler thermometer

Now as a practical matter, how long can you keep that food in the cooler? Unless you're watching your cooler like a hawk and are sure that it is 40 degrees or colder don't try to keep food as long in the cooler as you do at home in a refrigerator. Even if it is safe, your lettuce may not be as crisp and appetizing in the cooler.

The following is a general guideline for keeping food in a cooler. It assumes that your cooler is 40 degrees or colder but gives you a margin for error to accommodate for the kiddies pulling pops out regularly, the cooler being left in the sun, loads of warm food placed in the cooler, and other cooler hazards. If you know your cooler has been above forty degrees, play it safe and discard potentially hazardous foods such as meats and egg-based dressings.

  • Fish, poultry, and ground meat: These are both very perishable and potentially hazardous. Do not keep these foods in a cooler for more than a day or two-never over two.
  • Steaks and chops: These should keep for three or four days in a cold cooler.
  • Cured bacon and lunch meat: The cured nature of these meats will keep these safe longer. Use within a week. Be cautious of deli meats that may not be cured and will not keep as well.
  • Eggs: As long as they are kept cold, your eggs should last one to two weeks. Discard any eggs that have cracked shells. Remember that egg shells are porous. Do not let the eggs sit in water in the bottom of the cooler where they may become contaminated.
  • Milk: Milk may keep for a week in the refrigerator but do not plan on keeping milk in the cooler for more than two or three days. Smell or taste milk before using to make sure that it is still fresh, especially if you are using it in cooking where spoiled milk may not be noticed.
  • Cheese: If kept in its original packaging that is air and moisture tight, cheese will keep a long time-harder cheeses longer than soft cheeses. Plan on keeping cheeses in a cooler for a week or longer. We have taken cheeses on backpacking in the mountains and river trips with no refrigeration for four or five days.
  • Butter and margarine: Margarine will keep longer than butter. You should get two weeks or more from your margarine and at least a week from your butter. Butter will become rancid. It will also absorb odors from your kitchen. Store your butter in zipper-type plastic bags. Do not let it become wet.
  • Yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese: Plan on using these within a week.
  • Ripe fruit: For keeping qualities, there are three classes of fruit. Berries and cherries will only keep for one or two days. Soft fruits-grapes, melons, pears, peaches, plums, and apricots-should keep for three or four days. Apples and citrus fruits will keep for a month.
  • Fresh vegetables: Broccoli, peas, summer squash, and lettuce will keep for two or three days. Carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce and green peppers will keep for a week. Potatoes, winter squash, and dry onions will keep for a couple months and do not need to be refrigerated. Ideal storage for these vegetables is 50 to 55 degrees.
Dennis WeaverDennis Weaver -- having burnt food from Miami, Florida to Point Barrow, Alaska -- is RTA's road food expert. He has logged thousands of hours on the roads, trails, and waterways of America including many of Alaska's wilderness rivers and has consistently been elected the trips' "chief cook and bottle washer." Dennis is currently general manager at The Prepared Pantry, a company in Rigby, Idaho, that produces ready-to-eat meals and baking mixes packaged in Mylar. Weatherproof, bug-proof, and critter resistant, they're ideal for both roadtrips and back woods camping. Dennis may be reached at


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