Is my meat beating the heat?
August 5, 2020 9:59 PM   Subscribe

My walk back from the grocery store is usually about 30 minutes in 95 to 100°F heat. The contents of my backpack are noticeably warm when I arrive at home. For this reason I’ve avoided buying refrigerated chicken, pork, beef or fish to store in the refrigerator but I don’t know if I’m being over cautious. Assuming it’s safe, is the temporary rise in temperature going to affect the taste or texture?
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you also buy frozen foods at the same time? Could you sandwich the meat between two frozen items to keep it colder?
posted by Constance Mirabella at 10:02 PM on August 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

I'd get one of those squishable insulated bags (you could buy this one, but I'm sure you know ten people who have old ones kicking around in the back of a closet, especially now that more people are working from home and don't pack a lunch anymore). Maybe put an ice pack in it before leaving the house, or ask at the butcher counter if they have ice packs for customers.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:16 PM on August 5, 2020 [9 favorites]

Get a bottle of water, drink some, put the rest in the freezer, let freeze. Then toss it in your backpack when you head out to the store. Maybe insulate your backpack with an old towel folded up to be like a 'U' lining the backpack. Put your meat and stuff on the bottle of ice, fold over the towel, put the rest of groceries on top. Carry an umbrella to shade your backpack if the sun is a big part of the equation.

I wouldn't worry that much, it takes quite a while from say killing a deer while hunting and dragging it back out of the woods and home to butcher before going into the fridge/freezer. Your modern slaughterhouses are probably a bit ickier but get to the fridge a bit sooner, but 30 minutes probably isn't going to do much damage.

Or, yeah, most grocery stores around here carry an insulated shopping bag sort of thing just for these occasions. Or depending on how big the packaging is, the insulated lunch-box sort of thing would do fine. Either would be even better with the bottle of ice.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:48 PM on August 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

They make insulated backpacks for carrying food. They aren’t much money and will help keep it all cool. Toss in some ice packs if you need to.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:34 PM on August 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

Food that has been in the danger zone for less than two hours is considered fine to rechill and consume, even by the USDA guidelines which are notoriously conservative.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:00 AM on August 6, 2020 [25 favorites]

I use an insulated bag to transport my refrigerated or frozen food purchases, it all goes in the same bag and that way it stays cooler overall than if it got stashed between the non refrigerated stuff. Any of the methods suggested would work well enough for your walk back. Just be sure to unpack and store appropriately as soon as you get home.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:56 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd eat that the same day without any qualms at all, but would not store meat that had been warmed up that much. By the guidelines, you are probably ok; adding an insulated bag would add an additional safety factor.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:00 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Every grocery store where I am (Pacific NW, USA) has a "freezer bag", a lightly waxed paper bag with silver foil on the inside. These things are supposed to keep frozen items safer longer, and the foil does a surprisingly good job acting as an insulating medium. It's not a permanent cooler-- just supposed to get your frozen food home safely in a 30 minute - 1 hour time frame. It is literally designed to solve your problem. These bags are usually kept under the cashier's deck, and up here at least, are free for asking. You just have to know about them. It couldn't hurt to ask if stores in your area also have these disposable bags for freezer items to give to customers.
posted by seasparrow at 6:58 AM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Right now where we live near Tokyo, it’s brutally hot and humid, and we do most of our shopping by bike or on foot. I’ve taken to bringing (along with our regular cloth shopping bags) some foam lined insulated bags. Things like milk and meat go in those. The ones we use are canvas bags with the foam lining, and are actually for keeping a six pack of bottled beer cool, and they do a pretty solid job of that, and will fit in a backpack as well.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:15 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid we regularly shopped at a grocery store 65 miles from our house (small town living blows), including the summer of 90F plus temperatures. We never did anything special for the meats we bought there. Ice cream, meat, frozen veggies would all make it back fine in the back seat of the car.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:23 AM on August 6, 2020

A bag of frozen peas or corn work as great cheap sources of cold- no special bag needed. Other cold items work as well - milk, OJ.

I worked at TJ's and it was daily practice to have the 'reefer' food sitting on the floor for up to an hour. Which is mostly fine because it was sitting on big pallets of cold food. We regularly got temp sensors shipped out and we mostly didn't trip them. And back when I actually shopped at stores I would totally put my hands on the boxes of reefer goods as they are being stocked. But I'm fine. I'm gooood. I also generally don't buy fresh meat at TJs, I get it at the Costco. That whole meat cutting area behind the glass- it's kept to the proper temps for handling meat. Costco takes it all serious - their eggs don't sit out on the shop floor getting warm.

As for that USDA rules - I would suspect that for many perishable items any USDA limits have already been tested before I get my hands on it.
posted by zenon at 10:19 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

While perishable food may be considered safe if left unrefrigerated for up to two hours, it will taste significantly fresher and better if you keep it cool using one of the insulation suggestions above.

Remember that two hours is the guideline limit for a 70ºF room temperature; the allowed time decreases significantly at warmer temperatures. At 90ºF, the rule is that food should be discarded if left out for over one hour.
posted by chromium at 10:51 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

My situation is almost exactly like yours, and what I do is take a wheeled cooler to the grocery store. I can get even ice cream home without any melting, and, better yet, I can buy a lot more groceries than if I only had my back pack.
posted by Transl3y at 3:13 PM on August 6, 2020

I have an insulated backpack and it's amazing for grocery trips. I toss a reusable ice pack in it for extra insurance. This is also useful for picnics, for keeping water bottles cold on a long walk outside, etc.
posted by BlueJae at 8:07 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

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