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Keeping Your Cooler Clean

Contributors: Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN and Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: July 17, 2020

Reviewed: March 16, 2023

cooler in car
Maria Teijeiro/Photodisc/Thinkstock

After a day of fun in the sun, it's easy to empty your cooler and forget about it until your next outing. But a clean, safe cooler starts before your next picnic even begins. Take good care of your cooler and you'll help keep it bacteria- and germ-free.

Before You Hit the Road

When you're picnicking, tailgating or barbecuing, things can get messy. To make sure you have all the essentials you'll need for quick and easy cleanup, pack a bottle or bar of soap and clean towels. You'll also need clean water. Try to find out ahead of time if you'll have access to fresh water at your destination. If not, bring a few jugs of water from home. If that's not possible, pack disposable wipes to clean hands and surfaces before and after cooking and eating.

After the Fun Is Done

Melted ice is a sign that the temperature has dropped and your food is no longer safe to eat. It's time to toss all leftovers. While you're at it, immediately throw out all used bags and wrappers so they don't contaminate your cooler.

Scrub It, Then Store It

At the end of the picnic or as soon as you return home, clean your cooler with water and a mild detergent and rinse thoroughly. Then, make sure to wipe it completely dry before storing. If lingering odors are an issue, a quick wipe with a vanilla extract-soaked paper towel can freshen things up. Finally, if your cooler has a drain plug, make sure it's open to prevent moisture from accumulating during storage.

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