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To keep your food cool, safe – and in pretty much the same condition as when you packed it - during a day at the beach, pack food snugly and in layers – heavy, solid things on the bottom, and soft, more fragile things on top of those. Wrap foods well in plastic wrap, baggies or foil to protect it from melting ice and condensation – soggy chips are not very satisfying, after all! To have the coolest food and drinks possible, and prevent losing your ice over the course of the day, pre-chill food and drinks. Keep your cooler or lunch bag out of the sun, and make sure that you keep the lid closed tightly. Keep perishables – such as foods containing meat and dairy, for example - closest to the ice. Put ice or ice packs at the top of the cooler – cool sinks, so this will help keep everything chilled. Finally, avoid opening the cooler frequently, since this will let out the coolness and will hasten the warming of the cooler's contents.
The inside of a cooler can be less than appetizing at the end of a beach day: chances are, you bring home a hodgepodge of empty cans and food packaging (since you should not leave these on the beach!), melted ice, sand and soggy crumbs. If you're using the cooler the next day, discard the trash, and rinse the cooler with a hose and leave it open to allow it to dry. If your cooler is very dirty, if you've been using it for several days without a thorough washing, or if you're putting it back into storage, it will need a more detailed washing. Clean the inside and outside with a solution of warm water and mild detergent, such as dishwashing liquid. Use a paste of baking soda and water to remove tough stains from the inside. If your cooler is plagued by stubborn orders, you can use a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water. If odors remain, Coleman (a cooler manufacturer) suggests wiping the interior with a cloth saturated with vanilla extract, and leaving the cloth in the cooler overnight. Air-dry the cooler with the lid open before storing.
Not everyone needs of wants a hard-sided ice chest that would be as at home at a campground as it would at the beach filled with soda and beer. These days, there are all kinds of form factors, styles and colors for those folks looking to have beach accessories that say something about who they are. Smaller-scale beach coolers and lunch bags might appeal to the individualist, while insulated bags with compartments for your food, your towels and a bottle of wine might be the right choice for a couple headed to the beach for a romantic dinner. Look around to find the right food transportation for you – having something you will use is the first step to ensuring a great beach meal.
A 25-quart cooler is too much for a few sandwiches, and a 6-packer will not suffice for a beach party. Select a cooler based on its intended use: if you're just one or two people headed to the beach for lunch, your cooler should be fairly small – just large enough to hold your lunch, some beverages, and the ice or ice packs that will keep your food cold. If you have a larger group or are bringing food to last a longer amount of time, you should have a larger cooler. A good rule of thumb is to choose a cooler or cooler bag that will hold your food comfortably, leaving enough room for air flow, but not so much as to let there be a lot of dead space or that will let items knock around. Coolers should seal tightly, and you might want one with hard sides if you will be packing anything fragile. A soft-sided cooler bag or lunch box can be convenient – and tends to be lighter – for daily items like sandwiches and sodas. For larger needs, consider getting a cooler that has a spigot, as this will make for easier cleaning and draining of melted ice.
During a beach day, people usually open a cooler to get a drink. Not only does this opening and closing of the cooler create inefficiencies that will melt your ice and hasten the potentially hazardous warming of other items in your cooler, chances are your beach cooler or lunch box does not actually have enough space for your food and as much water or juice as you should be drinking during a day exercising in the sun. To make sure that you stay hydrated and that your food stays cool and safe, pack and bring along a separate cooler filled with drinks, or bring a water cooler with a spigot from which you can serve beverages directly.