We independently review everything we recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.

How To Keep Food Cold At A Picnic & Ensure Freshness

Norah Clark
Keeping food cold at a picnic.

Knowing how to keep your food cold at a picnic is easiest when you use an insulated food container that has been pre-filled with ice packs and kept in the freezer overnight. Before leaving for your picnic, place the container in a larger cooler that has been partially filled with ice, as it will help to keep your food cold for an extended period of time

Keeping your picnic food at the right temperature is essential regardless of the season. Whether you’re enjoying an outdoor summer picnic or a fall gathering in the park, certain foods and beverages are best served chilled.

Unfortunately, people often overlook the importance of keeping food cool during picnics. To ensure that your food remains fresh and safe to eat, it’s crucial to explore all available options, whether you’re hosting a casual picnic or packing a picnic for a hike.

We’ll discuss effective ways to keep your picnic food cool and fresh, so you can enjoy your meal with peace of mind.

Cheers! Party picnic outdoors. Credit: Unsplash
Cheers! Party picnic outdoors. Credit: Unsplash

When heading out on a picnic, it’s important to keep your food at a safe temperature to avoid spoiling and potential illness.

The recommended time for food to be kept at room temperature is no longer than 2 hours, which is especially crucial during hot summer days.

To ensure your food stays at a safe temperature, you can use a food thermometer to regularly monitor it.

Here are some easy-to-follow tips to keep your picnic food cold:

  • Chill your food in the refrigerator before packing it for the picnic.
  • Take the food out of the fridge as close to departure time or serving as possible.
  • Use insulated picnic supplies to keep cold food at 40 °F (4.4 °C) or below.
  • Cover the food to keep the cool air in and contaminants out.
  • Use cooler mats and portable ice trays to keep the food cool while serving.
  • Store food and containers, such as coolers, in the shade and avoid leaving them in hot cars.
  • Always use a thermometer when unsure about the food’s temperature.
  • Discard any food that has been left at room temperature for over 2 hours.

Safe Food Temperatures

According to USDA Food and Safety guidelines, it’s important to follow certain rules to ensure food safety.

  • Cold foods should be stored at or below 40 °F (4.4 °C).
  • Hot foods should be kept between 60 °C (140 °F) and 74 °C (165 °F).
  • The range between these temperatures is known as the danger zone.

Keeping food within these recommended temperature ranges can minimize the risk of illness and keep your meals safe and enjoyable.

Best Way To Keep Picnic Food Cold

Based on the size and the location of your picnic, there are a variety of easy and effective methods to keep the food and beverages you bring to your picnic cool.

1. Coolers and Insulated Picnic Bags

To keep your picnic food fresh and tasty, it’s important to use proper coolers or insulated bags for transporting and storing your food until it’s ready to be served. The right cooler or bag will depend on the size of your picnic and the location you choose.

Thankfully, many great options are available, including insulated picnic hampers, backpacks, baskets, and even folding bags.

The key feature to look for in any picnic bag is insulation, which will keep your food cool and fresh.

The Best Cooler On The Market – YETI Cooler

I bought a Roadie 24 cooler which is now our third YETI cooler. I’m insanely impressed with how well it can keep everything cold and how long the ice lasts!

The key feature I love is its taller design, allowing you to store wine bottles or tall water bottles upright and food for picnics.

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler
YETI Roadie 24 Cooler
  • The Roadie 24 cooler is an upgraded version of the Roadie 20.
  • It is 10% lighter and can hold 20% more while providing 30% better thermal performance.
  • The taller build of the cooler allows for upright storage of a standard wine or 2-liter bottle, and it can fit easily behind a car seat.
  • The cooler is made with rotomolded construction, which makes it tough yet lightweight for easy transport.
  • It features a QuickLatch that is flexible and built for one-handed access.
  • The cooler can hold up to 18 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio, or 24 lbs of ice.
  • Its dimensions are 16 1/2” L × 14 1/2” W × 17 1/2” H.

Budget Friendly Cooler Bag – Iknoe Cooler Bag

I recently purchased this product for a trip with my family. I found it perfect with its ability to fold flat and have plenty of pockets. The bag is very well made and durable, and it has a large capacity to keep my items cold.

During my camping trip, I put this cooler to the test and was impressed with how well it kept our food cool without any leaks. I even used it to store liquids for the journey home, and I didn’t have to worry about any spills on the way back home.

Overall, I am extremely happy with this cooler bag and would highly recommend this budget cooler bag.

Iknoe Large Cooler Bag
Iknoe Large Cooler Bag

Soft-sided cooler bags and folding picnic baskets are great for carrying ice and drinks, while cooler backpacks can hold up to 32 cans. For small meals or hiking picnics, food containers with insulated lids can attach to your backpack.

Insulated picnic totes are perfect for small or large picnics, and even specialized coolers for wine come with complete cheese and wine service sets. With so many options available, you will find the perfect cooler or bag for your next picnic.

2. Use Additional Cooling

Food that is already cold in an insulated bag can keep food cool for some time. But adding additional cooling can make sure that your food stays cooler for longer.

Use Frozen Water Bottles

To keep your food cool for longer, consider freezing some water bottles and placing them in an insulated picnic basket.

As the bottles thaw, they will also provide you with chilled water throughout the day!

Use Soft Ice Packs

If you’re planning a picnic, you don’t need to carry a lot of ice with you unless it’s necessary. Ice packs are a great alternative to keep your food cold without the risk of leaking, and they’re lighter than solid freezer blocks. Soft ice packs are a great option as they can fit in a variety of bags and containers, including smaller lunch boxes and thermos sandwich bags. They also come in larger sizes, which are perfect for bigger food containers for salads or desserts.

Instant Ice Cold Pack
Instant Ice Cold Pack

If you’re worried about the gel-ice packets causing condensation or sweating, wrap them in plastic bags to prevent any moisture from your cooler.

You can also choose non-sweat ice packs like the ones from Nordic Ice No Sweat Reusable Ice Packs.

These simple tips will help keep your food cool and fresh on your picnic.

Using Ice to Keep Picnic Food Cold

If you’re planning an event and need to keep food and drinks cool, there are a variety of options available to you. One option is to purchase ice, which is readily available at many stores.

Another option is to consider using alternative cooling methods, such as frozen gel packs or reusable ice packs.

For picnics at home, having a supply of ice on hand is always a good idea.

Use Block Ice

To maximize the cooling efficiency of your cooler or insulated bag, consider using block ice at the bottom of the container.

This way can prolong the lifespan of the ice and keep your food and drinks colder for a longer time.

To prevent any leakage, it’s recommended to place the block ice in a plastic bag and drain any excess water when it starts to melt.

Tricks For Using Cube Ice

Using cubed ice can help fill gaps and keep everything cool, but it can be messy. To prevent the ice from melting and mixing with the food, store the cubes in reusable, leak-proof zip-lock bags.

This will also keep the ice from being contaminated by food and help keep your cooler clean and dry.

If you’re using block ice to keep your food and drinks cool, you can still use cubed ice to add to drinks by placing it in a thermos flask.

3. Organize Your Cooler

“Organizing your hamper or cooler properly is crucial for a delightful picnic experience,” Gareth, the Managing Director at Boyd Hampers said, “it not only shows your love for outdoor dining but also helps in keeping the right items cool and preventing cross-contamination. It also reduces the risk of a messy picnic.”

Here are some tips to ensure that your picnic food remains cool and is transported with ease.

  • Seal coolers and insulated bags as tightly as possible to prevent warm air from entering unless you need to access an item.
  • Use separate coolers for drinks and perishable food items.
  • Pack coolers tightly with cold items to keep food cooler for longer.
  • Place blocks of freezer ice at the bottom of the cooler and put chilled, perishable items on top, then cover the top with frozen packs.
  • Put raw meats in leak-proof ziplock bags and place them on top of the ice layer to prevent any juice leakage and keep them at the coldest temperature.
  • Place salads, desserts, cheese, and other items on top layers.
  • If using frozen food items to keep cool, ensure they are stored in leak-proof containers to prevent ice from seeping into the food.
  • If ice cubes are used, store them in reusable ziplock bags to prevent them from melting quickly and avoid a water mess in the cooler.

4. Use Insulated Food Containers

Insulated storage containers are a convenient way to transport and keep food cool, while also serving as serving dishes.

MAXSO Vacuum Insulated Food Jar Containers.
MAXSO Vacuum Insulated Food Jar Containers.

These are the most efficient and long-lasting options for outdoor storage, and they’re insulated, making them ideal for any type of picnic.

How To Keep Picnic Food Cold While Serving

After successfully transporting your picnic food to keep it cool and fresh, it’s time to unwind and enjoy your meal without any concerns about spoilage.

Follow these simple picnic tips to ensure your food stays fresh and delicious until it’s time to serve.

Read our guide on keeping your picnic food warm if you are serving any warm food at your picnic.

1. Put Serving Dishes On Ice

If you’re planning an outdoor picnic, there are several ways to ensure your food stays cool while you enjoy your meal.

The method you choose will depend on the location and type of your picnic, but there are simple solutions that work for any occasion.

Ice Pack & Cold Mats

To keep your food cool while serving, simply place an ice cube or a cold mat on top of dishes like salads and desserts, keeping them cool and off the table.

FlexiFreeze Party Mat Chiller
FlexiFreeze Party Mat Chiller

If your food is stored in an airtight container, leave the container unzipped and place the cold mat beneath the dish inside the container.

Use An Inflatable Buffet Ice Tray

There are various ways to keep your food and drinks cool while serving at a picnic. Although it’s unsuitable for every type of picnic, these cooling containers can be used for most occasions.

Hemoton 3PCS Inflatable Serving Bar Ice Tray
Hemoton 3PCS Inflatable Serving Bar Ice Tray

Fill them with ice, place your food in a ring around them, and enjoy your meal!

When done, simply deflate the tray, and no mess.

Use 2 in 1 Serving and Ice Trays

This serving dish set is designed to make serving chilled food easy. The lids of these dishes can be converted into ice trays, so you can keep your food fresh and cool for an extended period of time.

Innovative Life Appetizer Serving Tray on Ice with Lid
Innovative Life Appetizer Serving Tray on Ice with Lid

2. Don’t Put All the Food Out At Once

If possible, avoid setting out all of the food at once. Divide portions and servings to prevent food from sitting out for too long.

Begin with snacks and appetizers, such as finger foods or a charcuterie platter, before moving on to main dishes, salads, and desserts, especially summer desserts.

If you’re hosting a party and serving foods like creamy potato salad, only serve small portions and replenish them as needed.

Keep Food Covered

Covering food with a lid or clean wrapper/foil can keep it cool and shaded while also preventing contaminants and heat from getting in.

Put Leftover Food Away When You’re Finished Eating

If you plan on having leftovers or anticipate another meal later in the day, store the food back in its original container and return it to the cooler.

This ensures the food stays fresh if someone gets hungry later or wants to take some food home.

3. Keeping Food Cold For a Picnic is Simple

There are various ways to keep your picnic food cool and fresh without carrying heavy coolers and ice, whether you prefer a quick, light meal or a long, leisurely one with friends.


How Do You Keep Food Cold Outside Party?

To keep food cold during an outdoor party, consider using a large cooler with plenty of ice packs or frozen gel packs. Another option is to use an insulated food container pre-chilled in the freezer with ice packs overnight. You can also keep the cooler in the shade and avoid exposing it to direct sunlight to help maintain a low temperature.

How Do You Keep Food Cold For 8 Hours?

One effective method is using an insulated cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. You can place the food in an insulated food container with ice packs and then put the container inside a larger cooler with ice. To maintain the cold temperature, avoid opening the cooler frequently and keep it in a cool, shaded area.

How Do You Keep A Picnic Cool?

To keep a picnic cooler, pack the food in an insulated food container that has been pre-chilled with ice packs or frozen gel packs. Place the container inside a larger cooler with ice, and keep the cooler in the shade to avoid exposure to direct sunlight. You can also pack cold drinks and fruits that can help keep the food cool.

How Do You Store Food For A Picnic?

To store food for a picnic, use an insulated food container that has been pre-chilled with ice packs or frozen gel packs. You can also use airtight containers or plastic bags to store food items such as sandwiches, fruits, and salads. To prevent cross-contamination, store raw meats and cooked foods in separate containers and use different utensils to handle them. Finally, pack everything in a large cooler with ice packs or frozen gel packs to maintain a low temperature.


Keeping your food cool and fresh during a picnic is essential for its safety and taste. By using an insulated food container pre-chilled with ice packs or frozen gel packs and packing it inside a larger cooler with ice, you can ensure that your food stays at a low temperature for an extended period.

Storing cold drinks and fruits alongside the food can help maintain a cool environment. Don’t forget to keep the cooler in the shade to avoid direct sunlight exposure.

After reading this guide on how to keep food cold at a picnic, you can enjoy a delicious and safe picnic with friends and family!

Profile Image Norah Clark

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, Editor of Boyd Hampers! Norah is a food writer with over a decade of experience in hospitality as a pastry chef, sous chef, and barista; former chef at the Savoy Hotel, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Plaza Hotel.

Back to Boyd Hampers Magazine

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

1 of 4