How to Use an Ice Box Cooler for Food Storage

- Mar 15, 2021-

f you know how to use an ice box or cooler for food storage, and a few tricks for making your ice last longer, you can have great meals when you are boating or camping.

Dave and I have done many extended trips where we only had a cooler for storing food. Four times, we’ve gone without a refrigerator for two months or more. And I’ve lost track of how many shorter trips. We eat well on these trips, not just a bunch of dehydrated meals.  Here’s how I use a cold box for food storage.

If you don’t have a refrigerator, using an icebox — a built-in box to keep food on ice — or a cooler set up specifically for food storage instead of drinks gives you a lot more options for food storage. The question is how to do it so the food doesn’t end up soggy from the melting ice.

How to Set Up an Ice Box Cooler for Food

In short, rather than placing food directly on the ice in the cooler — which will melt and you’ll end up with your food sitting in water — it’s far better to get some racks or grates and put your food in bins on the racks.

Before heading to the store, measure the length and width of your icebox or cooler.  If it’s not a rectangle, sketch the space and write down the measurements.

Put Your Food in Bins on the Shelves

Then get some bins to hold your food.  I like the Sterilite bins shown, with solid bottoms (less bruising of produce than having holes in the bottom) and ventilated sides (to allow the cold air to circulate).  I got both the racks and bins in the housewares/storage department in Wal-mart.

How to Make Ice Last Longer

Block ice will last far longer than cubes, although cubes will chill things faster.  For food storage, get block ice when you can — block ice will last 5 to 7 days in a well-insulated icebox even in 90-plus-degree weather (and longer if it’s cooler).  Cube ice will only last one to two days. If you freeze the blocks yourself, remove them from any plastic containers (like milk jugs) before putting them in the cooler — the plastic insulates the ice and less cold gets to your food (see my tips for making block ice).