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Keep a Cool Cooler

How to protect the number one summer essential: the cold beverage.

By Gibbs Milliken

As Texas weather heats up, ice-cold drinks and fresh food are more than conveniences — they’re survival tools. Here are some simple tips to help you make the most of your ice chest.

  1. Start with a well-made hard or soft-sided cooler by checking the insulating R-factor of the unit. The higher the rating number, the colder your drinks will be.
  2. Pre-chill food and drinks before placing them in the cooler. This will greatly extend the life of your ice supply. It also helps if the container itself is cool before loading.
  3. Cold air sinks, so when adding ice, place it on top. Drinks will cool the fastest with crushed ice, but stay cold longer when a small solid block is included.
  4. Block ice, dry ice, frozen water bottles or reusable gel icepacks last longer than crushed ice. Place as much ice in the container as possible or line the interior sides with flexible pre-shaped frozen packs; then completely fill with goods to reduce air space.
  5. Avoid draining all the chilled melt-water from the cooler as it adds extra insulation and helps maintain a lower temperature. Use heavy-duty zippered plastic bags to keep foodstuffs dry or isolate perishables in a fitted top tray.
  6. Shade the container. Direct sunlight or high temperatures that develop inside a closed car can cause a fast meltdown. If possible, cover the cooler with a light-reflecting cover, blanket or jacket.
  7. If you use frozen reusable gel packs, it is best to buy the type that are well sealed and can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Some porous hydration type packs will absorb the odor of fish or foodstuffs and cannot be reused due to contamination.
  8. In the larger, sturdier fiberglass or thermoplastic ice chests, items will keep cold for as long as five days. This can be important on long off-road trips and extended camping stays. Avoid metal wall ice chests as they tend to absorb the sun’s rays and quickly heat up causing a significant loss of cooling in one day.
  9. Keep your cooler clean. After use, wash thoroughly and apply a very diluted solution of Clorox bleach; then rinse with freshwater, wipe clean and air-dry the container before closing. This prevents mold and mildew from developing and ensures the chest is ready for your next trip.
  10. Odors retained by some ice chest linings will be reduced or removed if a small open box of fresh baking soda is kept inside once it has been cleaned, dried and placed in storage.

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