Tricks for Transporting Food This Holiday Season

Brierley E. Horton

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1.    Don’t overfill. Cram too much food into a container and you risk a mess in your car. The just-right amount is three-quarters full. “That little bit of extra space gives the food room to jostle around during transport and also leaves a cushion for any possible expansion,” says Robby Melvin, chef and test kitchen director for Southern Living magazine. If you have too much, use a second container.

2.    Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. It’s a safety issue and requires a cooler. USDA guidelines are that perishable cold foods can’t stay above 40 degrees for more than two hours, and perishable hot foods shouldn’t stay below 140 degrees for more than two hours. Foil-wrapped hot food will stay hot in a cooler for a short drive, the USDA advises, and cold foods packed with ice in another cooler will stay chilled. If it’s a long drive, use a thermometer to be sure.

3.    Invest in rugged reusable containers with lids. Buy something that will last for many seasons. It beats jerry-rigging with plastic wrap, aluminum foil and rubber bands and ending up with goop all over your car. “I love thick glass containers with flexible lids” says Ann Taylor Pittman, a James Beard-winning cookbook author. “They’re leakproof, they stack well and they come in various sizes and shapes to suit different needs.”  

4.    Carry your serving dishes separately. Transport side dishes in those easy-to-stack rugged containers and carry serving dishes in a different snug box. At your host’s house, put the finishing touches on your dish, or re-heat it, and then transfer to your pretty, holiday-meal-worthy serving dishes.

5.    Skip dainty foods. Forgo complicated and delicate foods in favor of something forgiving, like a casserole, dip or a side dish, such as stuffing or mashed potatoes. Bringing something sweet? Think less about Yule logs or cakes, and more along the lines of brownies, dessert bars or homemade candies.

6.    Make ahead when you can. Make your dish a few days or even a week early, and freeze it. Remember that thawing a large casserole in the fridge is best done overnight, so do that at home and transport it thawed but cold. Check with your host about an oven for cooking or reheating.

7.    Garnish when you get there. Pack and carry garnishes—croutons, salad dressings, fresh herbs—in jars or bags for last-minute use.  

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