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Leave a Cooler In Your Car to Help Keep Groceries Chilled

Cooler filled with ice and ready for groceries
FootMade0525/Shutterstock

From packing snacks for an outing to bringing groceries home, there are many times when you need to keep food in your car. However, if the car trip lasts longer than a few minutes, you might start to worry about food safety.

The answer? A cooler! Spontaneous shopping trips won’t be an issue if you can keep your perishables cold while you run other errands. Even ice cream will last on a hot day if you store it properly in a cooler.

Investing in some extra coolers will make your life a lot easier—here’s how to get the most out of this simple idea.

Why Use a Car Cooler?

With a cooler in your car, the possibilities are endless. You can be the first at the farmer’s market, grabbing the freshest fruits and veggies before the crowds rush in. And there’s no need to hurry home—you can go out for breakfast, enjoy a cup of coffee, and trust that your fresh food will stay cool.

The car cooler is also great for everyday grocery shopping. You can now go to your favorite stores all over town, storing perishables in the cooler while you shop. Even if you’re a one-stop sort of shopper, the cooler will keep everything chilled on the drive home.

Don’t have time to shop after work? Consider shopping during your lunch break. You can even bring your cooler up to the office.

How to Keep Items Cold

There are several options for keeping your food cool while on the go:

  • Ice packs: Invest in different sizes and weights, making sure you have lighter ones for the days you’re on foot with perishable food. You can store several at home and some at your workplace, trading them out every day.
  • Frozen water bottles: Take ordinary plastic water bottles, fill them with water, and freeze them. Store them in a deep freezer if you can—they’ll fill up the space, which will reduce your overall electricity use.
  • Electric car cooler: These only work while your car is running, but they’re a great option if you have a long commute. This electric car cooler has the option to buy a plug converter so you can use regular outlets as well, a perfect solution if you need to keep food cool while at work. Add in regular ice packs for the times you can’t plug the cooler in.
  • Keep the lid closed: Once you pack your food items in the cooler, try to minimize opening the lid. This will keep the coldness locked inside. Consider bringing multiple coolers if you’re stopping at more than one store, allowing each cooler to stay closed after you load it up.
  • Avoid the sun: Keep your cooler out of direct sunlight and avoid hot places like the trunk, garage, or over a heat vent.

Even if you’re doing some spontaneous shopping, you don’t have to stress about finding ways to keep your cooler cold. Almost all grocery stores and gas stations sell cheap ice for a buck or two, letting you chill your cooler and have some extra ice to throw in the freezer when you get home.

No Car? No Problem

There are plenty of options for carrying perishables on foot, bike, bus, or train:

  • Cooler backpack: An easy solution for shopping on foot. Make sure it’s a leakproof backpack; otherwise, you’ll be drenched by the time you get home. Use soft gel ice packs to make the load lighter.
  • Cooler shoulder bag: These bags allow you quick access to items on the go (perfect for snacking kids). This tote bag looks like a standard messenger bag—people won’t even know you’re toting around fresh veggies.
  • Cooler wheelie bag: An ideal solution for hauling around heavy items. This lightweight one folds flat for easy storage.

What to Do When You Forget Your Cooler

If you stop at the store to grab some much-needed items, only to realize you forgot your cooler and ice packs, don’t fret. Most stores sell affordable padded cooler bags, often by the checkout counter. You can also buy cheap frozen products to keep your more valuable perishables cold. A pack of frozen peas will go a long way. Also, as we noted above, most stores sell cheap ice you can add to your bag in a pinch.


Remembering your cooler might be hard at first, but once it becomes a part of your daily routine, you’ll be on your way to more efficient shopping. To make this easy trick even easier, consider setting a daily reminder on your phone to load up the cooler and ice packs.

Jill Chafin Jill Chafin
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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