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We’ve all been there. You run to the grocery store for a few essentials, but then suddenly remember a few other necessary errands. So, you wonder: Is it safe to keep my groceries in the car while I run around town a bit more, or do I need to head straight home in case the food spoils?
Well, you are right to be concerned. It only takes two hours or less for refrigerated foods to potentially begin to spoil when left at room temperature. And your car is not room temperature, especially in the summer. But how hot can your car actually get in the summertime, especially if you are only running a few quick errands?
Consumer Reports advises drivers that “…if it is 80° F outside, the car temperature can reach 99° F in just 10 minutes and 109° F in 20 minutes.”
How can this be?
It all comes down to heat convection and the lack of circulation within the small space of your car.
“For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200°F,” says the National Weather Service. “These objects (e.g., dashboard, steering wheel, child seat) heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off longwave radiation … which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.”
Check out this handy chart created by the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University for a breakdown of vehicle temperatures based on the weather.
What does this mean for your groceries? It means you were right to be concerned about those trips home from the store.
Consumer Reports noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends never leaving meat unrefrigerated for more than two hours, but that timeframe is just an hour when the temperature is 90 degrees.
And, remember, even shelf-stable foods need to be stored at room temperature, so don’t assume that only refrigerated or frozen foods are at risk in a hot car during the summer.
So how can you keep your groceries safe until you get home?
Use insulation to keep groceries cool
First, try to time your errands so that the grocery store is the last stop on your way home. This will be the safest and best way to keep your food from spoiling.
Of course, this is not always possible. And for people who live in rural areas far from the nearest store, even advance planning won’t get you and your groceries home quickly to properly store everything.
Insulated bags can help keep your food cooler for the ride home. For example, these Earthwise insulated bags can help keep food cold and also serve as reusable grocery bags. At just $19.99 for a pack of two, these sturdy bags are also convenient for for camping and picnicking.
Another option is keeping a large cooler in the back of your car in the summer. This 54-quart Coleman cooler is a heavy-duty way to keep your groceries cool. Just pick up a bag of ice at the grocery store along with the rest of your goods and drop them all in the cooler.
Keep groceries up front, not in the trunk
The trunk of your car gets much hotter than the rest of your car since there is no air circulating back there. Keep your groceries inside the car’s main compartment, preferably close to air-conditioning vents, if possible.
Bag cold foods together
Ask the bagger to keep your cold foods together, or bag them that way yourself at the check-out. This way your popsicles, fish, deli meat and dairy will all help each other stay cold.
Remember, when it comes to food safety, you really cannot be too cautious. Chicken and turkey not stored properly can even become deadly. When in doubt in these dog days of summer, go home and put your groceries away.
[h/t: Consumer Reports]