How to Choose the Best Cooler
A cooler is used to keep food and beverages cool when not stored in a refrigerator. This is important not just for palatability, but for food safety as well. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people get sick from foodborne illness every year. Of those 48 million, 128,000 people are so sick that they end up hospitalized and even worse, 3,000 people die. People who are especially at risk for foodborne illness includes pregnant women (and their unborn children), the elderly, young children, and immunocompromised individuals like those with HIV, cancer, or status post organ transplant.
In order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, it is important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cold foods should maintain a temperature under 40 degrees. The temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees is known as the temperature danger zone. In that range, bacteria on food can fully double in number in as little as twenty minutes.
Insulated coolers can be used in a variety of settings and situations. They are great on road trips, and long distance truckers would benefit from keeping one in their vehicle. The food at road stops typically isn’t very healthy and not always very appealing either. Using a cooler helps to expand your options. Coolers are also great for trips to the beach, barbecues, picnics, camping, and tailgating. Take them to your favorite sporting events and outdoor concerts. In the event of a power outage, a cooler can also come in handy for preserving your food. Just make sure that you have plenty of ice on hand!
When choosing a cooler, you’ll find that you’ll need to make several decisions. These factors will help you narrow down your cooler options so you can make the best decision for your particular needs. You may find that you’ll want more than one cooler to accommodate different events.
Hard versus Soft
The first choice you’ll have to make is whether you want a hard-sided or soft-sided cooler. Hard-sided coolers often can hold more than soft-sided coolers. Soft-sided coolers, on the other hand, are lighter and usually can fold for easy storage when not in use.
Often, you’ll find that coolers will advertise how many cans of beverages they can hold. This is a good way to compare storage capacity. Consider how you plan to use your cooler and how many people will need their food stored inside. For example, do you need a cooler just for yourself and your partner for a romantic picnic date? Or are you planning a group outing and need a cooler to accommodate enough food and beverages for your friends and family?
Hard-sided coolers are often heavier than soft-sided coolers. When choosing a cooler, you’ll want to make sure that you can easily transport it, particularly if you want to carry it for a distance such as at the beach. Make sure that the handle feels comfortable to hold. Some hard-sided coolers come with wheels and an extendable handle for convenience. There are also coolers that are available in the form of backpacks. Make sure the straps are padded and adjustable.
The cooler should be able to keep your food and beverages cold. Find out how long ice will stay frozen. Often, you’ll see the cooler advertised with specific timeframes regarding ice, but try to find real-world reviews as well.
Once that ice melts, how easy is it to drain the water? Some coolers feature a drain, whereas others require that you lift them up and tip them over -- which isn’t necessarily easy. A cooler full of water can be quite heavy.
Additional features to consider include how easy they are to clean, whether they are waterproof, and if they have anti-microbial fabric. Ideally, your cooler will be durable, holding up to travel and wear-and-tear. Budget will also play a role in your decision, as well as warranty if you choose a more expensive model of cooler.