Keeping cool at work
August 29, 2010 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I take my lunch to work. Lately most of my coworkers have latched onto this idea as well, so the community refrigerators are packed full. Is there anything I can do or buy to keep my lunches cold at my desk?

My shift recently changed, and now I come in to work later than most of my coworkers, thus the fridge gets filled. My shift is 11 hours (including the hour for "lunch"), so I usually bring enough to eat throughout the day. I have three different insulated portable coolers (cube-shaped, zipper top, insulation on all 4 sides), but none seem to keep things like a sandwich with lunch meat or carrots cool during the day. I've tried using the blue freezer packs, but those just seem to keep themselves cold.

The office building is kept at about 72F. Would a lunchbox with a Peltier cooler (like this one) be worth it, or does the 'mind have any other ideas?

Building maintenance, understandably, doesn't let us keep the small dorm-style compressor fridges at our desks because lots of people had them and we were consuming enormous amounts of power.
posted by fireoyster to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I used to freeze a container of yogurt (the Dannon sized container just for reference) and would use that to keep the rest of my food cold.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention that when the yogurt thawed I could still stir and eat it. Tasty!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2010

If the fridge is full, what about the freezer? Bring things to work cold/from your fridge at home, but keep an ice-cube tray and some ziploc-type bags in the freezer at work. Through the day, top-up one of your coolers with a new bag of ice. It won't be frigid, but if you keep it closed except for when you're retrieving food, your lunch may stay fresher. Keep all this away from computer heat, as well!
posted by mdonley at 1:54 PM on August 29, 2010

I've done two things in the past. First, using the freezer packs, put one on top and a second one in the middle of the food stack. Remember, heat rises, so putting them at the bottom does no good. Second, I freeze a bottle of water and put it in with lunch. As it defrosts, it also provides a little something to drink. I've gone a whole day without the water completely defrosting.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:55 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Coleman Xtreme coolers are rated for 5 days at 90°. I've used them for 10 years and have been very satisfied with their performance.

They are on the large size, so you may take some ribbing from co-workers, however there is a 50 quart model with wheels that might be suitable for your application.
posted by fairmettle at 1:55 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

What helped at my old office was a polite note asking that people only refrigerate items that required it, instead of putting their whole giant lunchbag in the fridge.

If that isn't an option, what I use is the freezer packs, the smaller ones. One on top, one on the bottom and one on each side.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 2:06 PM on August 29, 2010

nthing frozen water bottle. Also, you have to put the freezer packs on the top.

You could pick up one of those six-pack fridges - they sometimes show up on woot - and plug it in discreetly underneath your desk. While a lot of offices have no fridge/no toaster oven/no microwave rules for individuals, these little fridges usually pass muster. I've hidden mine in a file drawer.
posted by micawber at 2:20 PM on August 29, 2010

What about keeping your stuff in your cooler/lunchbox for most of the day until the fridge empties a bit. Also, have you considered bringing lunch for a week?
I've packed my son's lunch almost daily for the last 7 years, using a larger than he needs lunchbox and a hard plastic blue ice pack or two. Never had any trouble with spoilage, and if he doesn't eat his yogurt, it's cold enough to where just keep it for another day. I'm paranoid about foods going bad, and have never had issues.
posted by littleflowers at 2:27 PM on August 29, 2010

Another tip is to make your sandwiches with frozen bread. My mom used to do this for me when I was in elementary school! By the lunchtime, the bread was thawed but the filling was pleasantly cool.
posted by hansbrough at 2:47 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Coleman Xtreme coolers are rated for 5 days at 90°

I've used an almost-shoe box sized block of ice (frozen in a plastic bag in a shoe box) with a similar small cooler, and it lasted for days and days. As time went on, melted receptacles would form for the more consistently present items.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:50 PM on August 29, 2010

these little fridges usually pass muster.

They do help keep food from warming up, but be aware that they have very little "pull down" capability, meaning that it takes forever for them to cool down something that is at room temperature.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:54 PM on August 29, 2010

If I were you, at the very end of my shift when more space in the fridge has freed up, I would take an empty cooler sack, and place it in the back as a space marker.

Then, next morning, I would transfer everything from the 2nd coolor sack into the space being occupied by the 1st cooler sack.

Yes, this is passive agressive, but I have worked with some very inconsiderate people who have no qualms about space-hogging in the fridge with items they don't even eat every single day. YMMV.
posted by invisible ink at 3:32 PM on August 29, 2010

"none seem to keep things like a sandwich with lunch meat or carrots cool during the day."

They make vacuum bottles in bowl form factors now. Some ices cube in the bottom with carrots on top will keep chilled for a very long time. The same can be done with luncheon meat if you don't mind assembling your sandwich at your desk.
posted by Mitheral at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Insulated lunchbox + those reusable freezable ice cube things you can get at Amazon, frozen and put into plastic baggies to make custom-sized ice packs.
posted by ifjuly at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2010

A Mr. Bento is perfect for this. It's so fun to fill all the little containers, I don't even know why. Bonus: it's from Japan.
posted by worpet at 4:21 PM on August 29, 2010

2nding Mr. Bento. Love, love, love mine. And the larger ones can pack enough food for a day.

A lot of the people where I work also just bring a small cooler, like FairMettel suggested, I know it's not particularly classy, but it works, and you can have plenty of food. You could even keep it in your car if you didn't want to tuck it under your desk, or put it on top of the fridge.
posted by Caravantea at 4:29 PM on August 29, 2010

Offtopic in a way, but why not just ask your workplace to provide more fridges?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:29 PM on August 29, 2010

Nthing Coleman XTreme. Bring in a 20# bag of ice on Monday, and as long as you're only opening it a few times a day, it'll keep cold all week long.
posted by DaveP at 6:19 PM on August 29, 2010

If you can, make sure the fridges are cleaned out at the end of each week. I bet a lot of the food is leftover, or unclaimed food left previously.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:07 PM on August 29, 2010

I agree w/ blue_beetle. My workplace had this problem and started cleaning out the fridge on a monthly basis and it solved the problem.

Also, none of the things that you are bringing sound like they are in danger of spoiling over the course of the day, unless you were in 90 - 100 degree temperatures. As many other people suggest, packing a few ice packs along in your lunchbox w/ your food should be sufficient. I did this for several years with just one of those soft sided thin foam insulation lunch boxes and I was fine and never got sick.

Additionally, yogurt can last a long time without refrigeration. People started making it so that they could make dairy products last longer without keeping it cold. I wouldn't do it for days, but over the course of 1 day before you eat, sure thing.
posted by reddot at 9:09 AM on August 30, 2010

12 hour+ shifts for me. I use this insulated REI lunch bag, which neatly holds various "Fit & Fresh" containers that a have an ice pack that snaps into the lid.
posted by easilyamused at 12:47 PM on August 30, 2010

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