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How to Keep Food Cold for a Picnic - 7 Tips

by Franck Jehanne

picnic spread for friends and family

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We all love to go on picnics, but it's not easy to figure out how to keep the food cold for hours. Fear not! Here are some tips that will keep your picnic food cold, so it doesn't spoil before you get there.

Food Safety Temperatures

Let's start with food safety. Here are some references on the safe temperature ranges and tips on cooking food properly.

A handy chart on safe food temperatures from the USDA.

And guidance on how to cook food from the Food Standards Agency.

USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service recommends the following safe food guidelines:

Cold foods should be stored at 8°C and below.

The safe temperature for hot foods is above 70℃.

"The danger zone" is the range of temperatures in between.

Refrigerate Food Before A Picnic

To avoid the risk of bacterial growth, it is preferable to store food in the refrigerator before heading out for a picnic.

an insulated cooler for picnics


This will make the food colder and help to keep it that way at the picnic. 

The best storage items are airtight containers so no water leaks or out of them, which can potentially contaminate the rest of the food and cause illness. 

If it's a long way to the picnic place, make sure you prepare ice packs or pick some up along the way.

Keep Hot Foods Separate From Cold Foods

When keeping food cold for a picnic, it is best to keep the hot and cold foods separate. 

Place the food that needs to stay at room temperature in an insulated container, and place the ice packs on top of any food that needs to be kept cold.

You also need to consider what type of foods you want to bring when planning your picnic. Fruits can be cut into bite-sized convenient pieces and cheeses can be sliced as well. 

Fresh vegetables, salads, sandwiches, and desserts all make good choices too and need to be kept cold for as long as possible.

Use Insulated Food Containers

If you're packing a picnic, insulated food containers are perfect for keeping food cold. Use these products to maintain the cool temperature for your food on long car rides and during picnics.

ice bucket to keep drinks cold


A trick is to pack food in a food container that was filled with ice packs and placed in the freezer overnight. When you’re ready to go, pack the insulated food container into a larger cooler that has been partially filled with ice. Food can remain cold longer this way.

Insulated food containers also prevent items from getting crushed by other things in your cooler, which is excellent when transporting with other fragile stuff.

Freeze Water Bottles Or Juice Boxes

One easy way to keep food cold for a picnic is to freeze water bottles and juice containers before going, then place this frozen stuff on top of the food. You will have plenty of chilled water to drink throughout the day as the bottles defrost.

Another tip is to fill a container with ice cubes and place it at the bottom of the cooler for extra cooling power.

Helpful Tips For Using Ice Cubes

Crushed ice is a great way to keep drinks and food cool on an outdoor adventure, but when the heat kicks in, it can quickly melt and turn into pools of water. 

Ice cubes last longer in your cooler than crushed ice, and they are also less messy. Ice cubes can stay cool longer if you place the cubes in leak proof zip lock bags. Using this method will prevent ice from melting too fast and contaminating foodstuffs.

In addition, placing the bags of cubes in an extra bag with a towel inside will prevent water from spilling into the food below and keep things dry!

You can also reuse ice cubes in your wine or Champagne cooler.

Close Storage Containers Tightly

The less air present in a storage container, the longer perishable items will last without becoming spoiled and potentially hazardous. 

picnic blankets to keep food safe


The best way to do this is by keeping the storage container tightly shut, making sure it fits perfectly square in your ice chest or cooler. It also means that any leaks from ice packs won't get too many other things dirty.

Be strategic about the way you serve your food to make sure they stay cold. Opening and closing them over and over again will only wear out their freshness faster.

Pack Your Cooler Properly

A cooler is a great way to keep food and drinks cold while you're out at the picnic. If you pack it correctly, your things will stay colder longer. To do this, follow these steps below:

  • Place your first layer of ice cubes in containers or bags.
  • Next, lay cold meat items on top of it. Seal them in an airtight container to prevent contamination.
  • You can add another layer of ice if there is room.
  • On top of the ice, you can add any dairy products you have.
  • The next layer is for other food items that are sealed in their container or zip-lock bag.
  • It is best to place food that is likely to be consumed first or most frequently on the top layer, such as beverages, condiments, sandwiches, and snacks.
  • After packing your food into the cooler, cover it with an ice pack to keep air cold going downward.

Keep Your Cooler In The Shade

To keep your cooler stay cold longer, make sure you place it in a shady area away from direct sunlight. The heat will cause the ice inside to melt, and the food will spoil quicker than usual.

Another tip is to wrap your insulated picnic blanket around your picnic basket so you can cover up if it gets too hot outside.

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About the Author

Franck Jehanne is the co-founder of British lifestyle brand, Heating & Plumbing London. After 10 years working for Cartier and other luxury brands from the Richemont group, he started his entrepreneurial journey in 2011, leading to the creation of the brand in 2017.

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