When I first started driving a truck, I found out in a hurry how expensive food was out on the road. As a newbie all those years ago (I know, I know…because I’m so ancient, right?) with a low starting wage, figuring out new ways to bring my own food in the truck and keep it cold was a trial and error process that would eventually help me stretch my dollar even further. Without having saved enough money in the beginning to put a fridge in my first company assigned truck, I resorted to several alternative methods of keeping my food cold.
The first method is one that goes back to my heavy snowboarding days and trying to keep drinks cold in my backpack while out on the mountain. As simple as it may seem, a freezer bag with a good seal filled with snow or ice can be a lifesaver in a backpack or small ice chest when it comes to keeping something cold in a pinch. Whether it is purchased ice from a C-store or some of nature’s fluffy white stuff from a roadside stop (be sure it’s white, not yellow!), it essentially serves the purpose well of keeping your food and drinks cold. Once it melts down, refilling is as easy as dumping the water out out and refilling it with ice or snow again. Be sure to inspect for holes though, so you don’t lose an ice chest full of fresh food to a hole in a baggie, leaving you with a soggy mess!
A little later in my food cooling trials, my thoughts led to a more scientific approach. I had a really good Igloo cooler that would hold a 10-pound bag of ice for up to three days, but the water left over and possibility for leakage into my food led me to try frozen carbon dioxide, better known as dry ice. Now readily available at most Wal-Mart’s and grocery stores, it was a little harder to get back then. I would usually use this for the first leg of my trip and resort to ice again once the dry ice was gone. Both the best and worst part of dry ice is that it leaves no mess. This is because as it “melts,” it evaporates into gaseous carbon dioxide. That is great for not ending up with soggy food, but it also meant I stored and used it outside of the cab in my tool box. I was always worried about the possibility of carbon dioxide poisoning by it displacing oxygen in my cab. Another downside of this method is that it can get rather expensive, with three to five pounds only lasting about a day at a couple bucks a pound.
The final method is one that I am using even to this day, as I do not have room for a truck fridge in my daycab and would rather not have to leave something like a smaller fridge plugged in all the time either. As with all of my alternative cooling methods, a really good insulated cooler is key to making sure you are getting maximum cooling efficiency. I now use re-freezable ice packs that last all day long in my cooler and keep everything I need cold for my average work shift of twelve hours. They can be purchased from any Wal-Mart, for anywhere from $3 to $5 a piece, and last a very long time. These reusable packs have the advantages of my other two methods, with none of the disadvantages. They freeze fast, last a long time, leave no mess, and will not cause you to run out of breathable air in your cab! Of course, a fridge is your best option for keeping things fresh and while driving over-the-road, but it never hurts to have a back-up plan just in case your trusty fridge goes out or you don’t have the means to have one in your truck to begin with!