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Keep food from getting soggy in a cooler

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Q. My dad and I went on a camping trip. We brought a big cooler full of food with lots of ice. But it was super hot, so the ice melted and swamped our food. The buns were soggy, and my graham crackers were half-soaked. What can we do to avoid this?
— Waterlogged Will, Bakersfield, Calif.

A. I’ve got just the answer for your troubles, Waterboy. Instead of a bunch of ice, try this: Get three or four large empty plastic bottles, like a 64-oz. jug from apple juice, Gatorade, etc. A couple of days before your next camping trip, fill them up with fresh water and toss them in the freezer. When it’s time to go on your trip, skip the bag of ice and just put those frozen water bottles inside your cooler. They’ll stay cold for a long time. And when they do finally melt, instead of a bunch of soggy food and melted ice, you’ll have four bottles of fresh water, perfect for drinking, washing, whatever.


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21 Comments on Keep food from getting soggy in a cooler

  1. If you’re using a truck pull the plug in the cooler so that the water drains out as the ice melts. This is an old fisherman’s trick to keep fish cold but not soggy. Your ice will last longer, too.

  2. When going camping for several days (or a week) I estimate how many water bottles that we will drink/use and freeze all of them. They keep your food cold and when you want to drink one just take it out and in 10 minutes it has thawed and is still cold. PS – freeze them standing upright !

  3. I use tightly sealed Tupperware containers…different sizes/shapes.for e.g. (One for meats, one for produce, one for fruit etc)…But the bottled ice is a good idea too. Use both and I keep the drain open to prevent water from accumulating. Hot days..its hard to keep up. Often need to purchase more ice on a several day hot trip…

  4. Carry no freeze dry foods. Easy, simple and lighter.

  5. Wild Willy Wonka // March 16, 2015 at 10:56 pm // Reply

    We always put frozen Capri Suns in our lunch box, keeps everything cold for lunch.

  6. … and keep the lid OFF the container until the water is frozen.

  7. This what we do and it works great and your making use of the melted ice instead of dumping it.

  8. Our boys always have at least two coolers, one for cold foods and one for dry goods. Also, if you don’t have the bottles, freeze water in larger ziploc bags and leave it in the bag. The large “ice cube” lasts longer than the bag of ice.

  9. I put all my food in lock and lock containers in the cooler. Then just pour ice all around. No problems.

  10. Along that same line we use milk jugs filled with water and freeze them.

  11. On the last campout we froze chili in gallon bags. Packing up Friday I put them and a couple packages of pulled pork (vacuum sealed and frozen hard) in a small cooler. On top of them I put an old towel and then the lid. No ice needed and Saturday at 5pm they were still frozen solid like they were still in the freezer at home.

  12. I purchased some Lock n Lock containers they are watertight and when necessary to put things I don’t want to get wet in the cooler I use them. They also work for your gear you don’t want to get wet in the rain and they are normally cheaper than camping gear specified as water tight.

  13. I ziplock all items that go in the ice chest to prevent cross contamination and the soggies.

  14. eagle7-25-10 // December 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm // Reply

    its never a good idea to put “dry food” or food that doesnt need cooling in an ice chest with water, put it in a seperate box or an ice chest without ice

  15. If you freeze all of the food that is freezeable, such as eggs in a bag and frozen flat or meat items, your need for ice will be greatly minimized. Also, when possible, leave the cooler plug open so the excess water can drain out.

  16. Frozen half gallon milk jugs will solve your problem. Plus, When they do melt, you have a jug full of clean drinking water!

  17. i always use frozen bottles

  18. put your dry goods in a separate container, like a rubbermaid bin. This way, all items that don’t require cooling will be kept nice and dry – and chips and crackers stay crispy!! We’ve had this happen all too many times, and we plan on using frozen water bottles like mentioned above, or blue ice, and we also are planning on putting our meat in a smaller cooler (we have a huge rolling Coleman cooler) that we can use dry ice to keep it cold/frozen longer.

  19. Similar idea to the large jug, but I use smaller plastic bottles of water. Freeze them a few days ahead of time; they fit in between the foods better than the bigger jugs.

  20. CoinCollector // April 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm // Reply

    Great idea, Gear Guy! Thanks! (I just went camping this weekend with my dad and the tortillas got soaked with water because all the ice melted).

  21. Since freezing water causes it to expand, don’t fill them up completely. Leave some room for the expansion.

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