Planning a road trip? Don’t forget to pack food safety. When eating and drinking while traveling on the road, follow important food safety principles and procedures, so your trip will be memorable – for all the right reasons.
Minimum Food Safety for Road Trips
The basic rules when it comes to food safety while traveling are to:
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Also, a fully packed cooler keeps food colder longer than a partially filled one.
- Proper hand washing. Wash your hands with soap and water before you eat and after you use the bathroom. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
- Learn about foodborne pathogens, cross contamination, hot and cold food holding, personal hygiene and how to prevent foodborne illnesses.
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Bacteria “Danger Zone” (40°F – 140°F)
Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range between 40°F and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is called the “Danger Zone”.
Perishable Food – Safe Time
Track the time that food stays out in the open air temperature. Throw out any perishable foods that have been out at air temperature for 2 hours or more – and only in 1 hour if the temperature is over 90°F.
Food Safety Prep – Before the Road Trip
- Keep cold food cold. Place cold food in coolers with frozen gel packs or ice. Stashing it at 40°F or below prevents bacterial growth. Meat and poultry may be packed while it is still frozen; in that way it stays colder longer.
- Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruits.
- Rinse all fresh produce under running tap water before packing it in a cooler, including produce with peel-away skins or rinds.
- Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another – since you are likely to grab beverages most often.
- Keep hot food hot. That means your best bet when packing is to take a pass on hot food unless you have a portable heating unit that can be safely used.
Food Safety on the Road
- Remember to wash hands with soap and water during food preparation, especially between tasks.
- If you can’t get to a restroom to wash your hands with soap and water, pack moist towelettes or a hand sanitizer to clean up before digging in.
- Don’t let food sit out unrefrigerated for more than two hours; in hot weather (above 90°F), the time is reduced to one hour.
- In hot weather, transport food in a cooler (packed with ice or ice packs) in the back seat of an air-conditioned car – instead of the trunk.
- If you don’t have access to a cooler, try packing frozen juice boxes or bottles of water for a hydrating refresher that will also help keep other foods around them cool.
- If you plan to cook family favorites like hamburgers, hotdogs or chicken breasts at home to take with on your trip, remember to cook to proper temperatures: hamburgers (at least 160°F), hot dogs (reheated to 160°F), and chicken (165°F).
- Consider packing easy-to-transport, shelf-stable foods: single-serve boxes of cereal, trail mix, popcorn, single-serve applesauce, cans of tuna peanut butter sandwiches, fresh fruit, carrots or celery.
- Don’t forget that carry-out and fast-food are also susceptible to food poisoning. Eat fast food within two hours; in hot weather (above 90°F), the time is reduced to one hour.