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Vacations are a time to relax, be revitalized, and if you are adventuresome, enjoy new places.

Millions of travelers will take to the road in cars or recreation vehicles, before landing in their final destination. No matter how far or near you travel, there is always one thing that every traveler has in common – FOOD. And just because you are on vacation doesn't mean you can take time out from food safety.

There are four simple steps to food safety - clean, chill, separate, cook - that apply to the road, as well as, home.


Wash hands with soap and water before and during food preparation.

Pack moist towelettes or hand sanitizer if you don't have access to hand washing facilities. 

Have everyone in the family wash up before digging in. 

Clean and sanitize equipment that will come in contact with food.


Make sure you have plenty of ice or frozen gel packs on hand. 

Don't allow perishable foods to sit unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

In hot weather (above 90°F), food should never sit out for more than 1 hour. 

Pack food, directly from the refrigerator and freezer, with plenty of ice or frozen ice packets in well insulated coolers or lunch bags. 

A fuller cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than one that is partially filled. 

Place coolers in the air conditioned part of the vehicle, this will help coolers or lunch bags stay cooler longer. 

When the cooler is outside of your vehicle, keep your coolers in a shady spot. You can also cover it with a light colored blanket, bury it in the sand, or provide shade with a beach umbrella. 

Limit the amount of time the cooler is open.

Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the cooler stays below 40°F.


Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruits. 

Whether it is a short trip or long trip consider taking along multiple coolers. One for day's immediate food needs, such as lunch, drinks and snacks. The other for perishable foods, which you may want to pack frozen, to be used later in the vacation.


Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your meat, fish and poultry.

Ground Meat


Steaks, Chops, Roasts






If you are eating out, make sure that food stands look clean, and that hot foods are served hot and cold foods served cold. 

Be sure to plan ahead. Take along only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid having leftovers. 

When planning meals, think about taking shelf stable options to ensure food safety. Several choices include cereal, trail mix, popcorn, single serve fruit, and single serving cans of meat with crackers, peanut butter with bread or rolls, and whole uncut fresh fruit.

Following CLEAN, CHILL, SEPARATE and COOK could make a big difference between a vacation to remember and one that is remembered because people got sick from improperly handled food.

Nancy Urbanec

Nutrition Expert from UNL Extension

Nancy Urbanec brings over twenty-five years of Food Safety and Nutrition experience to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service. As an Associate Extension Assistant for UNL, she has a degree in Family and Consumer Science and Secondary Education from Wayne State College. Nancy works with both adults and youth in the areas of food safety and healthy lifestyles. Learn more about Nancy and the other UNL Extension nutrition experts at ...

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