The sun is shining, there is not a cloud in sight, and you have the day off. You have decided to bring the family to the beach and you are thinking about what to bring with you. After the beach ball, towels, floaties and sunscreen are packed, you begin to think about the menu. What to bring when it is going to be 90 degrees, a full 8-hour day is planned, and you want everyone to have their favorites?
Planning the Menu
- Leave the mayo at home: If you are planning on taking your favorite potato salad or pasta salad, consider using a vinegar-based dressing rather than a mayonnaise one. Vinegar based dressings are easier to store and keep cold than those with a mayonnaise dressing.
- Prep on site: If you are planning on taking chicken salad or egg salad, consider preparing the ingredients and placing them in separate containers then combining them once you are ready to eat. The ingredients are fresher and you minimize the opportunity for bacteria to grow.
- Double bag and freeze marinated meats: Be sure to keep different meats separated in containers from each other. Try double bagging using heavy-duty zip-top freezer bags. Place the meat and marinade in one bag then insert that bag, opening end first, inside a second bag. Freeze flat for about 30 minutes to an hour. The freezing process serves a couple of purposes: It will help in the marinating, it will deep-chill the meat to keep it cooler longer, and it will help with loading the cooler. Be sure to label the outer bag with the contents and any cooking instructions.
Getting the Containers Right
- Start clean: Even if you just used it, re-clean and sanitize the cooler. Be sure to clean, sanitize and dry the entire container, inside and out, paying particular attention to the area around the gasket. A clean, sanitized and dry gasket will help ensure a good seal when the cooler is closed.
- Go for a flat pack: Try to get as many items as possible into flat containers. Flat items are easier to stack and store and with consistent sizes, easier to keep cold.
- Choose plastic: Remove as many items from glass jars as possible. Although glass does keep things colder in the cooler, no one wants to deal with broken glass at the picnic.
- Squeeze right: For condiments, hit the craft store paint isle and buy yourself multiple squeeze bottles. Transfer the condiments to the bottles but be sure to label them in case someone in the group has a food allergy. Yes, the bottles are round, but they are all the same size, this will save space.
Filling the Cooler
- DIY Ice: You don’t just want to throw ice into the cooler. Take one-gallon heavy freezer zip close bags, fill with ice and salt the ice heavily. Close the bags and crush the ice using a mallet or hammer. Freeze the bags flat. You will need about 5 or 6 bags of “ice”, depending on the size of the cooler. You may want to prepare crushed ice without the salt so that it can be used for beverages. Be sure to label the bags so your guests don’t take the wrong ice. You can also use blue zip close bags for the salted ice.
- Add a rag: Take dishtowels and soak them in water and add a few drops of dish soap. Ring out the water, fold flat, place in heavy freezer zip close bags and freeze. You will have the towels to clean up and the frozen towels to help keep food cold in the meantime.
- Pack up: With the bottom of the cooler lined with bags of flat ice you can now load the cooler. To maximize the space, load the bags standing up. Alternate the food bags with the ice bags. To really maximize the cooling, have the food in the middle of the cooler and the condiments to the outside. The center of the cooler is always to coldest.
- Open with care: Remember this cooler set up is only secure until you open the door. From that point the food inside is on a time clock. The more the cooler is open, the faster the internal temperature will rise. Remember the four-hour rule.
- Separate food and drinks: Pack beverages and food in separate coolers. People will be going into and out of the cooler multiple times getting beverages. Every time the cooler is opened the temperature goes up. This will minimize the cooler and ices ability to keep things cold and safe.
Setting up for Lunch
- Keep it cool: Bring extra ice to place under cold salads to keep them cold
- Fire it up first: Get the fire going before you pull out the meats for grilling. Chances are, it is too warm at the beach to give that “30 minutes warm-up stage” for the meat, try for only 10 to 15 minutes before grilling.
- Keep an eye on the clock: After the spread of food is set up, it is only safe for about one hour before it needs to be put away or discarded. The heat of the sun, the sand on the beach are a perfect recipe for contamination and rapid bacterial growth.
Other helpful hints
Here’s a must-pack checklist of often forgotten items:
- Proper cooking utensils, such as knives, service spoons, tongs, oven mitts, etc.
- “Cleaning water” to tackle spills and splatters
- Empty zip-top bags for cleanup—they can hold dirty cooking utensils or dishes
- Trash bags
- Gallon-size zip-top plastic bag for bring plastic cutlery
And even though it’s not food-related, you’ll want to make sure you grab the bug spray and the sunscreen! Now, you are off for a great safe, fun day at the beach!
Want to learn more about earning your BS – Food Industry Compliance Management degree? Complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881.