keeping food warm for a picnic?

okie_redheadSeptember 17, 2008


I was wondering if anyone has had luck keeping food warm in an empty cooler. I am planning a picnic for after church on Sunday and would like to be able to make a meatloaf and fried chicken and maybe a baked mac and cheese. If I take it straight from the stove/oven and put into a cooler and cover the food with towels would it be safe for say 2-3 hours?


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Here are guidelines from the USDA website for keeping hot foods safe:

Keeping Hot Lunches Hot
Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot - 140ð F or above.

I wouldn't be too concerned about the mac and cheese but I'd be inclined to take cold chicken and meatloaf and warm it in the microwave if the church has one. If there are no facilities, do the above. Get all the containers and contents really, really hot and close it up tight.

Here is a link that might be useful: Food safety guidelines.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 1:43PM
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Wrap some clean bricks in foil, put them in the oven for an hour or so to heat up. Put them in the bottom of the cooler, keeping them insulated from the cooler itself so it does not melt. I used towels and a piece of wood.

I do not know what oven temp to recommend, because the time I did it I think I did it at 450 or so, and SEVERAL hours later when I opened the cooler I got a blast of steam and the food was actually a bit overcooked. I would experiment first if I were to try this again. Probably 200 would be plenty to keep the food safe assuming you add freshly cooked food.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 2:04PM
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I doubt that you can keep your hot food at a food-safe 140°F or warmer for 2-3 hours without an oven - even using the methods outlined above. In as little as 2-hours at the unsafe temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, bacteria can begin to grow. Add to that the table time when it will ALSO be at an unsafe temperature.

We have a Koolmate "cooler" that plugs in (AC or DC) and it can be set to keep foods hot, or chill foods like a mini-refrigerator. It has come in handy when we had to transport and keep hot foods hot because it will work plugged into the auxilary plug-in in the back of the car during the trip, or into any regular out-let once we get there. You can also add ice to it like a regular ice chest, so it's a very versitile food keeper.

I find it's easier and safer to take food that needs to be chilled (your meatloaf or chicken could easily be served cold), and I'd change the baked mac and cheese into something else that can be chilled.

For serving, I place ice (or blue ice packs) in the bottom of a really large bowl/container, and place the smaller bowl/container of food in the iced larger bowl. The bed of ice keeps the food nice and cold for a longer period of time than just sitting out on the table.

There's also the 2-hour rule for serving food outdoors (it's 1-hour if the outside temperature is over 90°F.). After 2 hours, it should be tossed - not packed back up and the leftovers taken home.

Another food safety tip: I keep the food to be served in smaller amounts in small serving dishes. When one dish of food is gone, I can take another container out of the hot or cold storage, so the extra food has been in a food-safe temperature during all that time. That way ALL the food isn't sitting out for a long period of time. Food that has been kept at the proper food-safe temperature can then be taken back home, instead of disposed of.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 2:48PM
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Thanks so much for your help ladies, I will take all of this into consideration before deciding what to fix for the picnic Sunday.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 10:16AM
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For a lot of years I kept foot hot...burn your mouth hot in one of thsoe styrofoam coolers...the thick kind that Omaha Steaks ships your frozen food in.
It would stay really hot for easily 6 hours...
I used lots of layers of newspapers to insulate the container from the hot pot and put, variously, a pot of chili ( a Le Cruset pot, which I am sure helps to hold the heat) and a pot of black bean soup....and quiche, the pie plates covered with a heavy pottery plate and stacked 2 pies to a cooler and all wrapped with newspaper.
Any insulated container that will keep ice frozen for 4 or 5 days will easily maintain a hot temp for several hours.
But remember...the volume counts...sue a smalled cooler and fill it quite full....use bricks heated in a 250 oven for an hour or more as "filler" for the empty spaces in the cooler.
Linda c

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 10:48AM
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