Coolers are a great way to keep things cold but sometimes they can freeze food you don't want frozen and ruin them completely.
Too many time I've put fruit and vegetables in my cooler only to have them freeze in the ice. When they thawed out they were mushy and completely ruined. So how can you keep food from freezing a cooler?
I've learned that with the right packing strategy it's actually pretty easy to stop food from freezing in a cooler.
To keep food from freezing in a cooler keep it in a dry rack or put a layer of foam or plastic on top of your ice and then place the food on top. Food in plastic containers is also less likely to freeze.
1. Use a Dry Rack
A few coolers these days come with dry racks that sit at the top of your cooler and keep food up and away from your ice.
This keeps food dry that you don't want to get wet and it also stops food from freezing.
If your food isn't touching the ice then it isn't going to freeze over.
When I lived in my van and used my Yeti Tundra 45 as my main cooler I would often use the dry rack to store essential foods that I wanted to keep cold but didn't want to get wet or freeze over.
Essential foods like fruits, vegetables and of course…the most essential of all….chocolate. Haha
2. Keep Your Food On The Top of The Cooler – Add a Layer of Foam or Plastic
To avoid food from freezing in your cooler you want to make sure that it isn't completely covered in ice. So keeping the food on top of your cooler only touching some of the ice will help it stay thawed out.
An even better way to do it is to get a thin layer of foam and cut it to the size of your cooler.
Place this foam over your ice and then place the food you don't want to freeze on top of the foam.
This will serve multiple purposes.
It'll stop the food on top from touching the ice and thus stop it freezing, but it'll also insulate the ice underneath which means your ice will last for longer.
You can pick up a cheap Yoga mat like this thin foam Yoga mat at Amazon and cut it to size. It's an affordable option and a good addition to any cooler.
If you don't have a foam mat or don't want to buy one then you can just use plastic. A couple of thick plastic bags can do the trick. This provides just a little bit of insulation between the food and the ice to stop it from freezing.
You can also use a towel or cardboard to do the same thing, but as the ice melts then they will get wet.
The cardboard/foam layer will both stop your food from freezing and it will help your cooler to keep ice longer. Learn all the secret tips and tricks for keeping ice much longer in your cooler.
3. Wrap It In Layers
Just as layers are the secret to keeping your body at just the right temperature when you’re on your adventure, they’re also the way to keep your food from freezing in a cooler.
You can wrap your food in insulated layers and then pack it carefully in your cooler.
You can even use some of the same layers on your food that you use on your body (launder them first, please).
Your old wool socks and fleece jackets do a great job of insulating your food so that it stays cold, but not too cold. Wrap them well and pack the cooler properly.
You just want to make sure if you're using fabrics to wrap up your food that it doesn't get completely soaked. To do this keep your food on top of the ice and drain the water from your cooler as the ice melts.
4. Pack Your Food In Plastic Containers
Another simple easy way to stop food from freezing in your cooler is to simply get some plastic tupperware containers and pack your food in these.
The plastic will act as insulation and stop the ice from freezing your food.
To make it even more effective place a tea towel or paper towel inside your plastic container and then put your food inside.
The towel will keep the food even more separated from the ice, insulating it even more. Keeping it cool but not frozen.
5. Put Food On Top Of Drinks, Make Sure It Isn't Touching The Ice
If you are in a situation where you've got nothing to help you stop your food from freezing, no foam, no plastic, no containers or anything, then simply create a layer of drinks on top of the ice on your cooler then place your food on top of the drinks.
The drinks will get cold and be nice to drink and your food will be cool but won't be touching the ice so it won't freeze up.
6. Stick It To The Lid With Velcro
If you wan't to get creative then buying some sticky velcro dots and sticking them to the inside of your cooler and sticking the other side to some ziploc bags is a great way to keep food up and away from the ice.
It gives you extra dry storage and keeps food from freezing.
Any of these methods is a great way to keep food cool but to stop it from freezing in your cooler.
7. Use a Cooler Divider
Many of the high end coolers like Yeti offer dividers so that you can separate compartments of your cooler.
Use the divider and place your ice in one side of the cooler with the items you want to keep frozen or extremely cold.
Place the items you don't want to freeze in the other compartment with little to no ice.
The ice in the other compartment will cool the air in the entire cooler and everything will stay cold. But the food you have in the compartment without ice should have no chance of freezing.
The best cooler I have found for this is Rov-R cooler which has an epic dry food compartment. Read my full Rov-R cooler review.
8. Avoid Dry Ice and Use Regular Ice Instead
If you're trying to start food from freezing in your cooler than more often than not you're going to want to completely avoid using dry ice.
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and it is much much colder than regular ice and much more likely to freeze all of the food in your cooler.
At -109ºF (-78ºC) it's going to freeze absolutely everything it comes in contact with and it'll often make all the air in your cooler so cold that everything freezes.
So avoid dry ice where possible and instead use regular ice.
How To Stop Food Freezing When Using Dry Ice In a Cooler
If you do decide to use dry ice in your cooler and you want to stop some foods from freezing then there are a few steps you'll need to take.
Wrap The Dry Ice
Don't just put naked dry ice into your cooler but instead wrap the dry ice in newspaper or cardboard.
This will serve to both insulate the dry ice and make it last longer and also to stop the food in your cooler from the extreme temperatures of direct contact with the dry ice.
Place Dry Ice On The Bottom Of The Cooler With Foam/Cardboard On Top
Cold air sinks. If you put dry ice on the top of your cooler the cold air will sink through your food freezing everything in your cooler.
Placing dry ice at the bottom of your cooler will make the dry ice last longer but it will also make it more difficult for the dry ice to freeze everything in your cooler.
Place a layer of cardboard or foam on top of the dry ice and then place your food on top of this.
Again, please food that is OK to freeze towards the bottom closer to the dry ice and place the food you do not want frozen towards the top.
Separate Food From Dry Ice With Other Food/Drinks or Dry Basket
A dry basket is one of the best ways to stop items freezing in your cooler when you're using dry ice.
Place the dry ice in the bottom of your cooler followed by a layer of cardboard or foam and then place foods you want frozen directly on top of this.
Anything you don't want frozen put in the dry basket near the top of the cooler and keep away from direct contact with other items.