‘Road trip’ food safety tips

Whether it is a trip to the beach, mountains, camping, day trip or a visit to Grandma’s, many of us continue to travel after Labor Day and into the warm autumn season.

One common denominator in any of these excursions is food.

During the warmer months there tends to be an upturn in the number of foodborne illness cases reported.

Many factors contribute to this: increased temperatures, more relaxed and flexible food preparation as well as the travel away from our kitchens. This presents challenges when it comes to safe food handling.

Planning is key no matter what your travel plans. While there is much to think about, three key areas of focus come into play where food safety is concerned — controlling temperature of foods, preventing cross-contamination and cleanliness.



The temperature danger zone is 40 degrees to 140 degrees.

What exactly does that mean?

Bacteria grow and multiply in this temperature range. If food is left sitting in this temperature range for a long enough period of time, bacteria can reach dangerous levels.

For this reason, if perishable food is left sitting in this temperature range for two hours or more, it should be discarded. When the ambient temperature reaches 90 degrees or higher, throw the food out after one hour!

When it comes to keeping cold foods cold, 40 degrees or lower, consider the following:

– When packing coolers, use freezer gel packs or blocks of ice rather than ice cubes, as they will last longer. Pack coolers as full as possible and fill in any empty space with ice.

– It is best to have a separate cooler just for beverages to avoid frequent opening and closing of a cooler that also contains food, and to prevent potentially dangerous changes in temperature.

– Once at your destination, keep the cooler in a shady place out of direct sunlight. Consider covering it with a blanket, tarp or insulated wrap. If going to the beach, partially bury the cooler in the sand and cover it with a blanket.

– Put a refrigerator thermometer in the cooler to monitor temperatures.

If you will be cooking food, be sure to bring a food thermometer to check the final cooked temperature of meats you are preparing.

A digital thermometer works best for thin foods like a hamburger or chicken breast. Only the tip of the thermometer needs to be inserted in the food to register an accurate temperature.

If you are using a dial thermometer, remember to insert it sideways into the food so that the entire sensing area is in the food, otherwise you will not have an accurate reading.

The only way to know that meat is cooked to the proper temperature to destroy bacteria is to use a food thermometer.

With hamburger, you may have premature browning of the meat before it reaches temperature, and in some cases marinade may affect the color of the meat and juices as well. Cook hamburgers to 160 degrees, chicken to 165 degrees and hot dogs to steaming hot.



The best practice is to have two separate coolers, one for ready-to-eat foods such as salads, fruits, other such items, and the other for raw meat products.

When packing the cooler with your meats, be sure to keep the different types of meat separate from one another since they are cooked to different internal temperatures.

If you have to pack meats in the same cooler as ready-to-eat foods, pack meats on the bottom and in leak-proof containers.

Having two sets of utensils and service platters, one for raw and one for cooked, is a good idea as well.


When it comes to washing dirty hands and faces, moist towelettes will do the job, but if at all possible, set up a handwashing station. The station should include a large thermos with a spigot, water, paper towels, biodegradable soap and a bucket for wastewater.

You will also be able to wash utensils or other food handling equipment there, in case you forget to bring extra.

Properly dispose of the wastewater.

Whether traveling by car, train, boat, bicycle or recreational vehicle, do not leave your good food safety practices at home!


Laurie Welch is a nutrition and family issues educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, 570-726-0022.