Wildly Affordable Organic Kitchen Containers: Make a No-Cost Ice Pack to Keep Produce Safe and Fresh

I love walking into a kitchen and seeing signs that people are cooking the Wildly Affordable Organic way. A food scale on the counter, measuring cups in the canisters, and plenty of pure ingredients for scratch cooking: beans, rice, flour, fruit, and vegetables. Looking a little further, I might spot some of the five key kitchen containers that save time and money. In my posts this week, I’ll tell you how to make your life easier with each of them, starting with the home-made ice pack.

WAO container 1: home-made ice pack slows spoiling, reduces risk of food poisoning

The warm and even hot weather that produces succulent tomatoes, ripe-ety ripe peaches, and peppers of all hues also encourages growth of another kind. Food-borne bacteria thrives in what the USDA calls “the danger zone”: between 40° and 140°F. Check out its scary chart of food-borne illness and you’ll soon detect this catchy chorus: keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Toss out perishable food that’s been in this danger zone for more than two hours. If the temperature is over 90°, toss it after just one hour. Keeping cold food cold also slows natural decay, helping your food stay fresh longer.

I learned this lesson the hard way, picking up some fresh chevre at a farmers’ market one Saturday, then having brunch with a good friend before heading home to refrigerate my purchases. The soft goat cheese still seemed fine but I got oh so sick! After that experience, I bring a cooler and some ice packs with me to the market during warm weather, especially when I also include a visit or side trips on the way home.

Making an ice pack is simplicity itself: take a sturdy plastic container with a screw-on top, fill it nearly full of water, and freeze it. My favorite container originally held excellent, locally made tomato sauce, but you can use plastic water or soda bottles too. Just make sure to leave enough room at the top for the water to expand as it freezes, perhaps a half-inch for wide containers and an inch for bottles.

Wrap the frozen-hard containers in a towel and pop them in a cooler. The towel helps keeps the ice-pack from rolling around in an empty cooler. At the market, put your most-perishable items closest to the ice pack. Once home, refrigerate any food that needs it. Check the melt level of your ice pack; it should still have a chuck of ice left. If not, use more ice packs or take a shorter trip next time. Wash your ice pack with soapy water, dry it, and put it back in the freezer. You’ll capture the energy spent freezing any remaining ice and have an ice pack ready for your next trip.

Do you shop at a farmers’ market? Share your tips for getting your purchases home in the comments below.

Published on: April 09, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Linda Watson
Linda Watson started the Cook for Good project after becoming obsessed with the national Food Stamp Challenge: living on a dollar a meal per person for a week. Her three-week experiment became a lifestyle, the website CookforGood.com, the book Wildly Affordable Organic, and now the Wildly Good Cook videos and teachers' training program. She teaches cooking classes and gives talks on thrift, sustainability, and food justice across the country. You can get more from Linda on Facebook..
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.