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Believe it or not, there’s more to packing a cooler than dumping in a bag of ice in a gas station parking lot. Properly packing a cooler for a day at the beach requires planning, and as crazy as it sounds, some strategy.

By thinking ahead before packing your cooler, you can ensure the freshness of your food, and a longer-lasting coolness for your beverages.

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Step One: The Cooler
Before you cram your drinks and grilling essentials into your cooler, give it a thorough cleaning. Remove any dirt and mildew that has built up since its last use to prevent contamination. Stay away from harsh chemicals, though. A simple combination of soap and water will do the trick.

Step Two: Beverages
Cover the bottom of your cooler with a layer of ice prior to adding any beverages. Place all of your beverages on top of the ice, and cover with an additional layer of ice to make sure they stay cooler, longer. Keeping your beverages at the bottom of your cooler will help them stay cold despite the warmth of the summer beach sun.

Step Three: Meat Products
Just like you did with your beverages, cover the width of the cooler with a layer of ice before you pack your meat products. Stack your meat products on top of the ice, and surround it with ice on all sides. By putting your meats in the middle of your cooler, you can prevent them from spoiling. Be sure all meat is properly packaged in leak proof containers and bags or placed in a separate cooler if necessary. Always keep meat and poultry separate from foods that will be eaten raw.

Step Four: Fruits and Vegetables
Store your fruits and vegetables in plastic, air-tight containers before you pack them. This will save space and maintain freshness. Place the containers on top of your meat products, and cover them with ice to keep them cool.

Step Five: Snacks and Misc. Items
Pack any snacks or miscellaneous items in air-tight plastic bags, and place them on top of all other items in your cooler. This will provide easy access, because let’s face it: everyone needs to get to those chips in a hurry.

Step Six: More Ice
This may seem a bit redundant, but we’re serious about ice. Fill your cooler to the brim with ice, and pack it in tightly around the edges. This will prevent any warm air from entering the cooler and heating up your picnic lunch. Be sure to store all food in watertight containers to prevent contact with melting ice water.

When you’re hitting the road, remember to keep the cooler inside the car where it’s air-conditioned and not in the trunk. Next up – enjoy your day at the beach!

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