How to Keep Food Warm on the Go like a Pro?

Are you an avid camper looking to take your outdoor cooking experience up a notch? Varying temperatures, fluctuating weather conditions, and unwieldy equipment can make it difficult to effectively keep food warm throughout the day.

But with the right methods and technologies, you can prepare delicious meals – no matter where you are or what the conditions may be.

In this article, let’s check how to keep food warm on the go like a pro with our experts.

Facts you might not know:

According to CDC, approximately 48 million people in the United States, or 1 in 6 Americans, become ill from foodborne illnesses annually. Out of those cases, approximately 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 results in death.

So it is very important to know how to keep food warm, and safe when traveling for more than one hour.

Food that is hot should not be stored within the temperature range of 40℉-140℉.

By following the simple tips below, you can avoid this problem and both your friends and your stomach will appreciate it.

1. How to keep food warm on the go? The Ultimate Guide by Experts

What you need to prepare to keep food warm in the car when traveling

It may not be safe to transport food in a car as the interior temperature tends to be higher than the outside temperature. Here are some items that can help keep your food hot and safe during travel.

  • Aluminum foil
  • Cooler
  • Portable car heater
  • Thermos
  • Thermal bags
  • Electric blanket
  • Bain-marie

1.1. Aluminum foil

Aluminum foil is an ideal material to use to keep food warm.

By wrapping your food in a layer of aluminum foil, you can keep your food warm for about 30+ minutes before it starts to cool down.

Aluminum foil can keep food warm for more than 30 minutes.
Aluminum foil can keep food warm for more than 30 minutes. (Source: Internet)

The shiny outer surface of the foil reflects thermal energy inwards, helping to retain the heat of whatever is on the inside, keeping it fresh and hot for a longer duration.

Additionally, aluminum foil is lightweight and easy to pack!

1.2. Cooler

If you’re traveling in a car and need to keep hot food warm, using a cooler is a great solution. Coolers have enough room for multiple meals and their strong, insulated walls can keep food hot for up to 3 hours.

If you're traveling in a car and need to keep hot food warm, using a cooler is a great solution.
If you’re traveling in a car and need to keep hot food warm, using a cooler is a great solution. (Source: Internet)

To make your hot meals last even longer, there are some tips to improve the efficiency of your cooler and keep them warm for a longer duration.

1.3. Try preheating your cooler with Hot Water

When you go to a fancy cafe, you may notice that the barista pours hot water into your mug and lets it sit for 30 seconds before emptying it out and then pouring your coffee.

This is done to heat up the mug and keep your coffee hot for a longer period of time.

Similarly, you can use hot water to preheat your cooler before filling it up, which will keep the contents warmer for longer.

1.4. Use hot bricks to keep your food warm

Another way to keep your food warm on the go is using the hot brick method. This is also an alternative to hot water method.

To do this:

  • Firstly, you need to pick some bricks or rocks.

Bricks come in many sizes and shapes, but basically, any brick can do the task.

It is recommended to use solid bricks instead of bricks with many holes as these holes can reduce the overall hotness of the bricks, hence lowering the cooler’s heat.

If you can’t find any bricks, you may use stones or large rocks as an alternative. However, remember that stones might break when exposed to heat, so proceed with caution.

use hot bricks to keep food warm on the go
Bricks come in many sizes and shapes, but basically, any brick can do the task.
(Source: Internet)
  • The next step is wrapping your bricks in aluminum foil.

Using aluminum foil not only prevents bricks from crumbling and making a mess in your cooler, but it also reflects heat back into the brick.

As a result, the brick releases heat at a slower pace and remains hotter for a longer period.

  • Next, you place these wrapped bricks in the oven.

Then set the temperature of the oven to 300ºF or 150ºC and wait for it to preheat. (the time duration for this task is from 20 minutes to 30 minutes)

Make sure not to overheat the bricks as that may cause harm to your cooler or food containers.

The recommended temperature for this task is 300ºF/150ºC, which is also commonly suggested by many people.

  • Then, wrap your bricks in a towel.

Once your bricks are ready, the next step is wrapping them in a towel before placing them in your cooler.

This will ensure that both your cooler and food containers remain safe from the extreme heat of the bricks.

Without a towel, putting hot bricks directly into your cooler can cause the plastic and insulation to melt and damage your cooler.

  • Next, place this combination at the bottom of your cooler (with another towel underneath).

You can also use layers of cardboard instead.

Then, place the hot bricks wrapped in paper or a towel, side-by-side on top of the towels. This ensures that your food containers won’t get too hot.

These bricks will stay hot for 6+ hours.

  • Finally, place your food on the top.

1.5. Portable car heater

If you are going on a long journey and want to keep your food warm for a long period of time, then a portable car heater is the right choice for you.

A portable car heater comes in a shape of a medium-sized pouch with aluminum-lined walls and a DC 12V electrical plug for your car.

This device works by drawing in cold air from outside and then heating it up inside the car.

portable 12V food warmer can keep food hot on the go
A portable 12V food warmer can keep food hot on the go with ease. (Source: Internet)

Its main function is to keep your food warm at a temperature of at least 150℉ (65.5 °C ).

Additionally, it can also cook raw food at temperatures of up to 240℉ (115.5 °C).

Some portable car heaters are fitted with a thermostat, allowing you to adjust the temperature based on your requirements.

These products are also energy efficient, so you don’t need to worry about overloading your car’s battery.

Many people tend to use portable car heaters for long road trips or camping. You can also find these products on any online shopping site at a cost of less than $30 per unit.

1.6. Thermos

Did you know that you can store food in your thermos besides keeping your coffee hot?

Thermos is a convenient item to keep your food warm, especially if you’re traveling alone or each person has their own thermos.

The way it works is that the hot air inside the thermos gets sealed in, preventing heat from escaping and keeping your food quite warm for longer periods of time.

Thermos can keep food hot on the go
Thermos can keep food hot on the go for up to 12 hours. (Source: Internet)

By using a thermos, you can keep your food warm for up to 12 hours.

It’s also easy to use: just fill the container with hot food, and close the lid tightly.

Additionally, it’s lightweight and compact which makes it a great choice for packing into your bag and taking with you wherever you go.

You can even customize the hot meal based on your preferences.

Some great options for hot meals in your thermos are:

  • soup (especially puréed)
  • rice or bulgur
  • boiled or sauteed vegetables
  • oatmeal
  • noodles
  • pasta
  • hot wraps

1.7. Thermal bags

You might have seen these thermal bags at your local supermarket checkout in the mid-2000s. These bags can effectively preserve the temperature of your hot or cold food for up to 3 hours and are quite affordable to purchase.

Thermal bags are typically made from polyethylene, which is a type of thermoplastic that is better at insulation than aluminum.

Additionally, this material is safe because it does not contain any BPAs, lead, or other toxic metals.

Thermal bags can keep food hot for up to 3 hours.
Thermal bags can keep food hot for up to 3 hours. (Source: Internet)

To ensure optimal food temperature, it is recommended to place the hottest food at the bottom of the bag so that the heat can continue to rise and keep other contents warm.

Also, try not to open the bag excessively to maintain the maximum temperature inside.

1.8. Electric blanket

A portable electric blanket can make traveling with hot food easy. It has different heat settings and is big enough to wrap an entire buffet of hot meals.

You can plug it into your car’s 12-volt power socket and it has a safety timer that goes off every 45 minutes. Even though it can be expensive, it’s a great thing to keep in your car.

Electric blanket can keep food hot when traveling with ease.
Electric blanket can keep food hot when traveling with ease. (Source: Internet)

Furthermore, during winter, it can help save on heating costs for your morning commute by using a blanket instead of blasting the heat.

1.9. Wrap in Newspaper or Cardboard

You can also wrap your food in newspaper or cardboard boxes to keep it warm. Cardboard is better at insulation than paper, as it traps more heat, but newspaper will work too. Be sure that the food is tightly wrapped so that no air can escape and cool it down quickly.

This technique can be used for short trips, such as to a nearby restaurant or store. For longer distances, however, you may want to consider other methods of keeping your food warm.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to use caution and check the temperature of the food before eating it.

1.10. Do not use the A/C and leave the car windows open.

To prevent the temperature of hot food from dropping, it is recommended to lower the windows instead of turning on the car’s air conditioning.

This is because the A/C lowers the temperature of the entire car, including the hot food.
Lowering the windows can provide a cool breeze without affecting the temperature of the food significantly.

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2. Food Safety Comes First

Be sure to select food and drinks that are safe to consume when traveling.

To avoid getting sick while traveling, it is important to be cautious about what you eat and drink. Contaminated food and drinks can cause illnesses such as travelers’ diarrhea and disrupt your trip.

Certain destinations pose a higher risk, so it’s important to adopt safe eating and drinking habits to reduce your chances of falling ill.

Safe vs. Risky food

The foods that are usually safe are:

  • Dry or packaged foods: Foods that are dry, like potato chips, are usually safe because most germs need moisture to grow. Packaged foods that are factory-sealed, like canned tuna or crackers, are also safe as long as they haven’t been opened or touched by anyone else.
  • Foods served hot: To avoid getting travelers’ diarrhea, it is best to have food that is cooked at high heat and served steaming hot. However, be cautious of food that has been cooked and left to sit at room temperature or on a buffet as it may get contaminated.

The foods that can be risky to eat when traveling:

  • Raw foods: It is recommended to refrain from consuming uncooked food. If you are able to peel them yourself or wash them with bottled or disinfected water, fruits and vegetables may be safer for consumption.
  • Take caution with fresh salads: It’s important to be cautious when consuming fresh salads since the greens may still have some germs that cannot be washed away.

Moreover, shredded or finely cut vegetables provide an ideal surface area for the germs to thrive.

Do not consume uncooked fruit or vegetable salsas, sauces, or condiments.

  • Be careful with seafood or raw meat: this list includes raw meat that is “cooked” with vinegar, citrus juice, or other acidic liquid (such as raw seafood marinated in citrus juice or ceviche, etc). The reason is they may have germs.
  • Street food: If you’re considering eating street food, be careful as street vendors may not follow the same safety practices or food preparation standards as restaurants do.

For instance, using thermometers and handwashing may not be followed adequately. However, you can take precautions and follow food safety rules as you would with other foods.

For example, if the food is cooked right in front of you and served hot, it’s more likely to be safe.

  • Bushmeat: Avoid eating bushmeat, which is local wild game like bats, monkeys, or rodents that are not commonly eaten in the United States. Bushmeat can be a way for diseases like Ebola to spread from animals to humans, so travelers should steer clear of it.

Safe vs. Risky Drinks

The following are usually safe to drink: Bottled or canned drinks, hot drinks, Carbonated drinks, such as sodas or sparkling water, milk from a sealed bottle, alcohol, etc.

The drinks that can be risky to drink: ice, fountain drinks, tap water, freshly squeezed juice, etc.

3. FAQs

What’s the best way to keep my food warm on the go?

Insulated lunchboxes and insulated food containers are great options to keep food warm for up to 12 hours. Short trips can be managed using thermal bags or newspaper/cardboard wrap. Make sure to also use caution when handling hot food and drinks, particularly around children.

Are there any other tips for eating safely when traveling?

Yes! It is important to always practice good hygiene when it comes to food, such as washing your hands before and after handling food and avoiding cross-contamination.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that the food is cooked thoroughly, especially when it comes to meats, poultry, and seafood.

Finally, if food is not served hot or looks suspect in any way, it is best to avoid it altogether.

What is the duration for which aluminum foil can keep food warm?

Depending on the peak temperature and how you store it, aluminum foil can keep your food hot for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Are heat packs effective in keeping food warm?

To keep your food warm, use a heat pack. Once the heat pack has cooled down, make sure to remove it so it doesn’t cool the meal.

Is it safe to consume chicken that has been left out for 12 hours after its cooking?

It is not safe to consume cooked chicken that has been kept at room temperature during the night, even if it is in a sealed container. This is because bacteria can spread on the chicken, so it is highly recommended to put it in the refrigerator as soon as possible.

Is it safe to leave cooked meat out for 8 hours?

It is not safe to leave cooked meats at room temperature for more than two hours as bacteria can grow on the surface of the meat and make it unsafe to eat.

4. Conclusion

As a traveler, you’ll encounter many different culinary situations while on the go. It’s important to have the right tools and techniques in your back pocket to make sure that your food is kept warm throughout the journey.

Despite being aware of how to keep food warm on the go, be sure to take all necessary safety precautions and follow appropriate food storage instructions. Not only will this help ensure you get to enjoy your meals when you reach your destination, but it can also help ensure everyone else around you stays safe and healthy as well.

So don’t forget that with a little bit of planning, preparation, and creative thinking, keeping food warm while traveling can be done – even if it means sacrificing a few extra seconds or minutes!

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