Ask Dr. Nandi: Keeping groceries safe in a hot car

Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-11 08:17:22-04

Running errands is a normal part of life and this includes frequent trips to the grocery store.  But if you’ve got multiple stops on your to-do list, how long can you safely keep groceries in your car in the summer heat?  

Now perishable food should never sit out for more than one hour when the temperature hits 90° Fahrenheit.  But it doesn’t take long for cars to heat up when sitting in the hot sun.  In just ten minutes, the inside temperature of your car can go from 80° to a roasting 99° Fahrenheit. And in 20 minutes, it can reach a scorching 109° Fahrenheit.  Imagine what that does to food!   Your groceries basically become a ticking time bomb.  Because bacteria love the heat and can grow and thrive in temps as high a 140° Fahrenheit.  And this can contribute to food poisoning and make you sick.  

Now fish and meat pose the biggest food safety risk but you need to be careful with your dairy products.  Milk has been pasteurized so it won’t have those germs but it can certainly spoil in hot environments.  So to help keep your groceries safe, here are my prescriptions:

Partha’s RX

1.     At the grocery store, shop for meat, dairy, and perishable items last.  That way you keep them cool for as long as possible.  

2.     When checking out, pack the cold items together but keep meat and fish separated.  You want to avoid cross-contamination. 

3.     Using an insulated bag with an ice pack can help keep foods cool.  Or pack your groceries into a cooler when you reach your car if you need to make other stops before home. 

4.     Skip the hot trunk.  Instead, put your groceries on a seat in the air-conditioned cabin where the air circulates and its cool.

It’s best to plan your errands in advance so you can leave the groceries to last.  I recommend you head straight home so that you can get all your cold items into the fridge or freezer as soon as you can.  It may seem a bit hypervigilant but it’s much better to err on the side of safety rather than risk food poisoning.