Cool boxes are popular among people looking to transport and store food, drinks, and other items over long distances, but most don’t consider how long the cool box will be able to stay cold before it needs to be cooled down again.
One of the most important factors for picking a powered / passive cool box or cooler bag is how long it will keep your food cold or frozen.
A cool box is designed to keep food and drinks at a constant temperature of +1°C and +8°C. In theory, if you placed several thermometers into your cool box before packing up your lunch, they would all read exactly 5°C after 30 minutes. But how long does a cool box stay cold?
In reality, many factors can affect how long it takes for a cool box to become cold enough for food safety (e.g. how tightly you packed the cooler). The best way to ensure proper food safety is to put an ice pack in with your food and drink or refrigerate it as soon as possible. You should also monitor how long it takes for your cool box to get cold.
The Different Types of Cooling Technologies
Cooling technology has changed quite a bit over the years. Today, most people own one of two types of coolers, soft-sided or hard-sided coolers. While both varieties can effectively keep food cold, they use different cooling technologies.
Both soft and hard coolers keep foods cold for the same amount of time, about six hours on average, depending on what’s inside the cooler and how long it takes you to get back home. Soft-sided coolers, also known as roll down coolers (because you roll them down when not in use), use ice packs that freeze solid once inserted into the cooler.
Cooling boxes encompass quite a few different technologies. It’s essential to understand the technologies for you to choose a cooler that fits your needs and preferences.
That said, keep in mind that many coolers currently use evaporative technology that works by drawing moisture from the air around them, creating an insulating layer between your food and high temperatures outside when combined with ice packs or cold water inside.
How to Choose the Right Cool Box
What kind of cooler you need will depend on the length of your trip. Consider getting an ice chest for day trips or short overnights (more portable, less expensive). For longer trips, such as camping or other outings where you’ll be away from home for several days, invest in a larger capacity model that’s more versatile and has more features.
It can also be helpful to consider how many people you’re travelling with and whether they have individual needs. If everyone needs access to food and drinks throughout your trip, opt for a large cool box with dividers to keep everything organised.
Consider taking these additional factors into account as well. Ice chest coolers aren’t great for long trips because they can lose ice and, therefore, their cooling power after a few days. If you’re spending time in hot environments, look for models with added insulation to hold in the cold longer or cooling packs that will add extra cold when needed.
For extended trips, look for larger cool boxes with extras like multiple compartments for an added organisation to keep ice longer and packing tools like straps to keep food secure. To ensure your stuff stays safe and secure many cool boxes have security straps or alarms to help keep any thieves at bay.
Step by Step Guide on How to Properly Pack a Cooler
A cooler packed correctly can make all of the difference when you’re in a pinch. Whether you need to keep your food fresh for hours or want to bring cold drinks with you on a trip, there are several things to keep in mind when picking out a cooler.
When it comes to coolers, they fall into two main categories: insulated and non-insulated. The main difference between them is their ability to retain temperature; if your goal is to keep things cool, then insulation might not be as crucial as it would be if keeping ice frozen was critical.
However, before you settle on which cooler suits your needs best, you need to know how to pack one. Here is a quick step-by-step process on how to pack a well-insulated icebox.
Step 1: Chill the Whole Cooler
The first step to packing a cooler is to chill the entire cooler before you start packing it. Chill cooler for as long as possible, and a cold cooler stays cool for longer.
Step 2: Freeze All Foods
Next, you should always freeze all the perishable foods you will pack in your ice cooler box.
Step 3: Use Ice Blocks
Use as much ice as possible. But go for block ice, not cube ice, since block ice lasts longer.
Step 4: Drain Water
During any long trips, ensure you drain any water from the cooler. However, there is no need to drain the water for shorter trips.
Step 6: Pack All the Food Cold
When packing all the frozen food in your large cool box, always ensure to double wrap them. Keep in mind that it’s not always advisable to trust food packaging. And drinks in a separate cooler.
Step 7: Insulation
Add an extra layer of insulation to your cooler. This is regardless of whether your cooler is insulated or not.
Step 8: Latch
Ensure the latch to your cooler is closed when not in use.
Cool Box Care Tips
A cool box can last for years if you take good care of it. Keep your cool box clean and wipe it down every once to remove any grime or dust buildup.
Keep It Upright
You should also ensure that your cool box is always upright and sealed when not in use—leaving it lying on its side will accelerate wear-and-tear by allowing water to seep into seams over time.
Mind the Sun and Hot Temperatures
A well-maintained cooler box can easily withstand three days of sitting in hot temperatures without being restocked with ice or cooled with an ice pack.
Keep your cool box out of direct sunlight, as heat speeds up food spoilage.
Overall, you can extend your cool box’s life by keeping it away from extremes of heat and cold. You can also slow down wear-and-tear by avoiding hard surfaces and never leaving your cool box on its side when not in use.
Use the Original Packaging
Try to store your cool box in its original packaging when possible so that any damage sustained during transit will be less likely to get worse over time. If you follow these simple tips, you can help ensure that your cool box will provide many years of cooling comfort without fail.
Cooler Box FAQs
Can Thermal Bags Keep Food Cold?
We’re all aware that thermal bags or thermoelectric cool boxes are a great way to keep food and drinks cold. However, most people may not know how long they can stay chilled.
The general rule of thumb is that if you put something in a cool bag and it’s cold out, you can keep it cool for around four hours. If there’s no wind and temperatures remain stable, you could get an extra half hour to an hour out of it—but those are ideal conditions.
If your temperature fluctuates during that time frame, or if there are any significant gusts from outside, your food will likely become warm much sooner than predicted here.
Can Cool Bags Keep Food Cold?
If you’re bringing perishables on your vacation, you need to be sure they stay cold. It’s easy enough to have coolers filled with ice; ensure that any items touching those coolers remain chilled.
That means putting them in insulated cool bags or wrapping them in towels. But if you don’t want to rely on ice, cool bags are available, and they keep food at proper temperatures for hours.
How to Keep a Cooler at 40°F/4°C?
Are you wondering how to keep food cold at 40°F or 4°C degrees in your powered cool box? You’re required to use frozen gel packs, juice boxes or even frozen water bottles. It’s worth mentioning that things stored with block ice remain safe to eat for longer, as block ice will last for more extended periods compared to ice cubes.
Do Cool Boxes Need Ice Packs?
Some cool boxes include them to help keep your food cold, but these aren’t always necessary. Adding too many ice cubes can lower how long it takes for a meal to become unsafe. It all comes down to thermodynamics—the rate at which food cools depends on how significant its temperature difference is with its surroundings.
How Long Does Ground Meat Last in a Cooler Bag?
Perishable foods stored in cool boxes – like frozen meats – could become potentially hazardous for your health. When storing them in a cooler, it’s always advisable not to keep them for more than a day. On the other hand, frozen steaks and chops can be kept in a cold cooler for approximately three days.
Do Powered Cool Boxes Need Ice Packs?
Powered cool boxes can keep things cold without the need of using ice packs. Remember, depending on the model of the cool box, the core temperature inside remains between 15-25°C below the outside temperature.
Enjoy Fresh Foods and Drinks on Your Journey
So, how long does a cool box stay cold? A cool box stays cold for several hours, even after being opened, depending on what you are using it for. It could be perfect if you are going on holiday and want to transport drinks and perishable foods over long distances.
You can open it as many times as you like, but be careful if the temperature inside rises. With the right precautions, everything in your cool box should stay fresh throughout your journey –keep in mind that any warm items placed inside may warm up quicker.
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Tom is a former chef turned full-time food blogger. He has always been passionate about food, and loves nothing more than experimenting in the kitchen and sharing his recipes with others. Tom’s blog is one of the most popular food blogs on the internet, and he has won numerous awards for his cooking. When he’s not blogging or cooking, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.