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Can you use a cooler without ice? (Explained)

Can You Use a Cooler Without Ice?

If you’re out of ice, and you need to keep things cold, but you still have a capable cooler, you might still have options. Though the type of cooler and how you load it might also be important factors.  

The best coolers are insulated vessels that seal tightly with a welll-insulated lid making them capable of preserving cold foods and drinks for several hours. Though cheap coolers with poorly insulated and improperly sealing lids can be equally ineffective at keeping anything properly chilled for long.

Of course, how you pack that cooler, and whatever other cooling items you have on hand will certainly help. Especially if you can manage to get your hands on some dry ice.

How Long Is Food Good in a Cooler Without Ice?

If the food is frozen, and you have a well-insulated cooler with a tight sealing lid, you might be able to keep food reasonably cold for up to two days. Though there are several things that can significantly shorten this time, putting your food at risk of entering the unsafe “Danger Zone” temperature

To hedge your bets, you want to load the cooler with a significant volume of frozen food in tightly sealed plastic bags. Then cover the cold mass with a few clean towels for added insulation.

Storing the cooler in a shady, cool spot, with a decent breeze will also help. If you can’t find a deeply shaded spot, try covering the cooler with a light-colored blanket or two.

Certain foods like fish, dairy and ground meat won’t last as long in a cooler without ice. Whereas whole meats that were previously frozen, such as pork roasts, and whole frozen chickens will last longer, while also helping to keep the foods around them cold. 

Will Dry Ice Ruin a Cooler?

The cold potential of a piece of dry ice that weighs 5 pounds or more can be so intense that it might crack the ordinary plastic liner inside your cooler. So, it’s a good idea to buffer any dry ice by placing it on a small piece of Styrofoam. 

If you’re going to be moving the cooler a lot, you might want to put the dry ice inside a cardboard box or put Styrofoam panels on the side walls of your cooler. That way if the dry ice shifts in transport, it won’t make direct physical contact with the plastic sidewalls either. 

Should I Add Water to My Cooler?

Adding water to a cooler can be a good or bad thing depending on the starting temperature of the food or drinks as well as the internal temperature of the cooler. Frozen foods will actually thaw much faster in a water bath than they will if they’re just surrounded by air.

I’d you have room temperature cans of soda, and cold water, then adding water to your cooler with the drinks can help cool them down.

Though you should avoid adding water to a cooler that already has ice in it. The heat sink properties of liquid water will only accelerate the melting effect of the ice.