Homemaker’s Column: Traveling with Food

July 5, 2022

Christine J. Patrick, County Extension Agent – EFNEP

Vacation season is upon us. Many families take food with them for picnics and keep little stomachs (and mouths) full while driving in the car. But improperly stored food could result in an unwanted vacation souvenir – food-borne illness.

Packing and storing food with food safety in mind can prevent this vacation disaster, and it isn’t that difficult. Just remember the “Five Rules of Traveling with Food.”

Rule 1: Plan Ahead.  Have plenty of ice or frozen gel packs on hand before you start packing. Some foods don’t require refrigeration–peanut butter and jelly and some cheeses, for example. Perishable foods, like meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and prepared foods, do require refrigeration, so if you’re taking summer salads, making sandwiches on the road, or bringing food to cook throughout your vacation, plan to keep them on ice in your cooler throughout the trip.

Rule 2: Pack Safely. Pack perishables directly from the refrigerator to the cooler. You can pack meat and poultry while it is still frozen. It will thaw during the trip, extending its safety and shelf-life. Keep meat and poultry in containers or zipper bags so that raw meat juice will not drip onto other foods.

A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than one that is only partially filled. Pack the remaining space with more ice or with fruit and non-perishable foods.

Rule 3: Preserve the Cold. Put the cooler in the passenger section of the car instead of in the hot trunk. Frequently opening the cooler lid will cause the inside temperature to increase. Preserve the cold temperature of the cooler by keeping the top closed and replenishing the ice as soon as it starts melting.

Rule 4: Pitch the Cold. Pitch any foods that become warm above refrigerator temperature (40 degrees F). Bacteria multiply at warm temperatures. At the end of the day, if the ice has melted and the food feels warm, discard any meat or poultry left over.

Rule 5: Keep Hands and Utensils Clean. Protect your family from disease-causing bacteria by keeping hands and utensils clean. If soap and water are not available, pack some moist towelettes. Bag and set aside dishes and utensils to wash with hot soapy water when you reach your destination. If you have questions about food safety, contact your local Clemson University Extension Service or check us out on the web at the Home and Garden Information Center at

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. It is an equal opportunity employer.