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Vacation food safety

Bringing along food for in the car can cut costs but keep it cold

“Remember that time when we were on a family vacation?” my teenage son began. He grinned at his sister.

My teenage daughter immediately knew where he was headed with this conversation. She became a bit embarrassed and retorted: “I was little and I didn’t know any better!”

I recalled the situation, too. I remember spinning my head 180 degrees to see what was happening in the back seat of the van. Fortunately, my husband kept driving calmly down the highway.

On a balmy day in August, we were en route to a family getaway. My daughter was in preschool and my son was in elementary school at the time.

“Mom, she’s eating old chicken!” my son reported loudly from the back seat.

My brain did a quick calculation of when we had chicken, and the timing certainly wasn’t in the immediate past. I discovered she had saved her chicken nuggets by tucking the bag under the seat of the van for a couple of days. We had made some extended stops in parks, so the interior of the car probably reached 37.7 C as we explored.

“Spit it out right now!” I exclaimed. Her cheeks were plump with two-day-old unrefrigerated chicken.

She looked up in surprise. I had a napkin in my hand ready to catch the food. Fortunately, she reluctantly surrendered her hidden snack before she had a chance to consume it. She also had to rinse her mouth with water several times.

We certainly were well past the one-hour-safe storage time for perishable foods in 32.2 C temperatures. At room temperature, you can have perishable food unrefrigerated for two hours.

From that situation, we learned to always travel with a cooler so beverages and leftover perishable food stays cold and safe.

Beyond food safety, travelling with a cooler can extend your budget for fun adventures at your destination. Most hotels allow you to refill your cooler when you leave or you can purchase ice, too. When packing for a family trip, pack some wet wipes to clean your hands and the inevitable messes in the vehicle.

Add some 100 per cent fruit juice and/or fat-free milk, string cheese, tubes of yogurt and baby carrots to your cooler. Whole fruit, such as apples and bananas, serve as portable snacks. Consider non-perishable foods, too. You might opt for single-serving containers of fruit, plus whole-grain crackers, dried fruit, nuts and cereal mixes. Homemade snack mixes and granola are portable snacks that stretch your budget, also.

Plan some healthful snacks and beverages for your next trip.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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