Managing Food/Fridges on Long Trips

I am about to buy a fridge and am interested in how others manage their food on long trips. I'm not wanting this to be a "which brand" debate though.
I expect to cryovac my meat and so need to keep it near freezing. I get the impression that some people set the fridge as a freezer for their meat/other frozen items, and either make ice in it and keep fruit/vegies/dairy in an ice box, or run a second fridge for the fruit/vegies/dairy.
I would prefer a simple setup without ice box or second fridge so a fridge with fridge/freezer compartment seems attractive (some seem to have 3 compartments for fridge/freezer/dairy, but I have not heard how effective this system is). I have previously found keeping fruit and vegies wrapped in newspaper in a box quite effective - but I'm sure being able to refrigerate them would improve their life.
If I bought a single compartment fridge, am I correct that I need to have an ice box for the vegies/fruit/dairy?
I don't need huge capacity as it mostly only me travelling.

What is other people's experience in this?
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Reply By: Member - evren1 (WA) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 02:53

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 02:53
Where is the fridge being stored. How big can you go!

60 L fridge/freeze combo / Engel

not starting a brand debate, but this is what we use and it's the ducks nuts!
I use it to freeze our meat and the fridge side holds the beers!

I have another 60L Engel fridge OR freeze for all the veg and dairy, but keep in mind there is three of us and the fridge freeze combo should be heaps to keep you out of trouble! My wife uses air tight plastic containers for longer life and to separate goods and maximise the use of space in the fridge.

where ya travlin too !


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Follow Up By: Jabberwocky - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 19:51

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 19:51
Fridge 'll go in the back of the ute - so could get a bigger one, but don't really want to go any bigger than necessary for purchase cost and also the power needed to run the bigger ones. I was thinking of about 40l but if I go separate compartments then I'd need to get 50 or 60l I think in the brands I've looked at.

Travellin to - out of Darwin different trips focussing on remote areas. I've used an ice box before, but access to decent ice often enough is a problem that the fridge will fix.
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Reply By: Member - Mick O (VIC) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 06:44

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 06:44

You really need to consider the types and durations of the trips you are doing. Will you be remote for any periods of time or do you expect to have access to a shop or caravan park every few days. The types of trip you are planning should advise you as to the fridge you need.

By way of example, I do long duration remote trips where I may be away from a store for 30-60 days. A freezer and fridge (2 fridges) suit me. (I have an Engel MT45 and a Waeco CF 50 so no brand debates from me).

Of course with two fridges, you have to cater for power needs and this means a dual battery system (in my case 2 auxilary batteries) and so on. Can you add to the post with your travel plans.

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Follow Up By: Jabberwocky - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 19:40

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 19:40
Thanks for your ideas. I live in Darwin and want to be equipped for trips of 3-6 weeks. Mainly planning remote trips where won't have regular access to ice, and want to be able to have enough food for a few weeks between restocking.
I'll keep the fridge in the tray of a ute under a canopy and am about to install a dual battery setup.

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Reply By: Boobook2 - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 06:58

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 06:58
If you cryovac you don't have to freeze - except if you want icecream.

Freezing uses 3 - 4 times as much power as a fridge set to 1 - 2 degrees. This is because of the thermal effect of ice. Freezing and putting into the esky is a lot of work and planning and means you cant stay anywhere for long.

Get as big a fridge as you need and avoid fridge / freezer combos like the plague INHO.

If you are by yourself I would guess a 40 - 50l fridge is plenty.
AnswerID: 346267

Follow Up By: Jabberwocky - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 19:41

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 19:41
Why don't you like the fridge/freezer combos?
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Follow Up By: Boobook2 - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:50

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:50
At first freezer / fridge combo's sound great, because that's what you do at home but if you cyovac then you don't need to freeze. If you don't need to freeze you get several things.

1)Freezing uses about 3 times the power, so you can't stop for as long or need big solar panels / gennie.

2)You have to split up the food into frozen stuff and non frozen stuff. This ratio changes as you use the food up so you end up with wasted space and energy in the freezer for no reason ( or shuffling food around)

3)Some ( eg Waeco 80l ) have uneven cooling in the fridge part. a temp difference of 10 degrees or more from one end of the fridge to the other and that changes as food moves around. Bad hygene.

4)Most but not all have only one door and you lose heaps of cold when you open the door. ( or you carefully manage getting stuff out of the fridge).

5)Frozen stuff is hard to get to and out, and hard to see what it is when in bags, and if frozen before going into the car fridge can be the wrong shape, losing space.

Apart from Icecream I can't really think of any downside to a single fridge without freezer.

As it happens I do have a fridge that *can* be a freezer and fridge. But I never use it that way. It has one 40l and one 34l compartment, each with seperate temp controls and doors. I use one as a 2 degrees fridge and one as a 8 degrees fridge for butter, salads etc. Food never spoils like my old fridge.
I would never go back even to a single temp fridge, let alone firdge / freezer combo.
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Follow Up By: Boobook2 - Thursday, Jan 29, 2009 at 10:52

Thursday, Jan 29, 2009 at 10:52
I forgot the most important thing.

You can decide what is for dinner at dinner time, not in the morning. Especially useful if you don't catch any fish :-(

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Reply By: aka - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 08:12

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 08:12
We have a 40ltr engel went to W.A for 12 weeks filled the fridge to the top with meat of all sorts got it cryovaced kept the temp around 2 degrees when in caravan parks went 240 in the car we have 2 batteries we ate the last of the meat in Renmark nearly home worked a treat
AnswerID: 346278

Reply By: Member - Wim (Qld) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 08:16

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 08:16

Since its only you traveling.
Start the cryovac things frozen in the bottom of the "fridge". They will last for the six or so weeks. The rest of the fridge can be used for other items.

If it is both of us traveling for extended period we use the fridge as a freezer and sit a high efficiency esky along side. We use two plastic bottles as ice for the esky. One bottle in the freezer, one in the esky. Not as good as separate fridge freezer but it works o/k.

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Follow Up By: kwk56pt - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 23:29

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 23:29
freeze first then cryovac or if the food is cryovaced then frozen it can expand and break the seal, my experience anyway. It will stay preserved without freezing
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Reply By: Member - Oldplodder (QLD) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 09:00

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 09:00
Only tow of us now, used to be four.

Have an old (20 year?) 2 way 29l fridge, not mentioning makes as requested. :o)

We only run on 12v, what the alternator can put out for the 2nd battery. This will keep us going indefinitely when touring, came back from a 5 week trip to the NT late last year and only went 240v for 3 days.

Yes, cyrovac meat, we get the butcher to make it up into meal size proportions. Freeze it before go and put it in the bottom.

We use the fridge for milk, softer veggies like tomatoes etc, and left overs.
Putting in lots of warm drinks during the day kills a fridge, so we limit ourselves to 1 to two cans/stubbies each per day. Wine is from bottles or cask, and not chilled. Opening the fridge and putting in warm cans really doesn't help. If you need your cold liquids, like beer or water, get a small drink fridge for between the seats.

We travel with 2 to 3 weeks of food with us, and usually take about 3 to 4 weeks of meat with us. We top up meat as we need it.

Take long life milk, and you only need to put it in the fridge when opened. The harder veggies go in a ventilated box, such as spuds, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoe. If they are getting a bit old, might go in the fridge for a day or two until we use them.

Run the fridge at 3 to 5 deg. Have seen it get up to 7 deg at times on a hot day (35 plus).

Have plenty of tinned and dried veggies, and pasta meals in packets for those quick meals after a long day. If we know a long day is coming up, and are having a day stationary, might cook a bit extra and put the left overs in the fridge for next evening. Long days run will soon get the temp down on the warm left overs.

Just found it too much hassle trying to run a fridge as a freezer, or setting up compartments. It is meant to be a holiday and checking/worrying about the fridge every couple of hours is something we don't need. :o)
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Reply By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 09:01

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 09:01
Unless you are going very remote for extended periods it is not really necessary to carry a huge amount of meat as it can be purchased along the way. Think about the cost/benefit of paying a bit more for a few kgs of meat or paying a lot more for a big frig and the battery capacity to run it. It may be more cost effective to purchase a small cryovac machine to take with you.

As others have said, cryovaced red meat kept at low - not necessarily freezing - temps keeps for weeks. Chicken does not keep well for more than a couple of weeks. Start from home with meat frozen. Use freezers in camp kitchens to freeze meat purchased along the way. If cryovaced it will slowly but safely thaw out if the fridge is kept at a low but not freezing temp.

If loading up a lot of meat into your fridge, pack it into plastic containers. This stops packages at the bottom bursting from the weight of meat on top. Of course this problem is overcome if you keep everything frozen.

Get some techi ice to keep an icebox cool - more efficient than bottles of water. Keep in the icebox the things that you will access more often - saves unnecessary opening of the fridge.

We carry our veges (potatoes, pumpkin, onions) in a semi enclosed plastic container out of the sun. Works well. Carrots dont travel well, and leafy greens, capsicum, tomato can be kept in the cool box if there is room. Dried peas are great. Most fruit will need to go into the cool box. The biggest problem carrying fruit and veges is the interstate quarantine restrictions, and when you come to restock they are expensive and often of poorer quality in smaller towns.



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Reply By: Sigmund - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 14:45

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 14:45
Terrific advice. Bookmarked.
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Reply By: HappyCamper - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 15:03

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 15:03
G'day JW

I normally set my 29 litre Engel to freeze for storing perishables, then use a small 12v cooler for day-to-day foods such as milk, ham etc. Each day I move some frozen meat into the cooler to allow it to thaw, it also helps with cooling. I have, on occasion, turned the freezer off at night covering it with a blanket for extra insulation, then turn it back on the next day. It has never thawed overnight doing it this way. While some 12v coolers don't seem to work too good, my old one will freeze milk/lettuce/etc even when turned down low and I never travel without it. I made my own insulated cover for the Engel, this helps along with not parking in the sun.

I now have a cryovac machine but still may freeze some meat, haven't decided yet. BTW, I have kept cryovacced meat in the fridge at home for 18 months and it has to be THE best bit of meat I've ever tasted or cooked. Was told by a butcher friend that they keep it even longer than that. The trick is to turn the meat each week to keep the juices from draining to the bottom, leaving you with dry meat once it's cooked.

Sorry, can't comment on the dual zone fridge/freezers, they are too big for me.

Bronwyn ;-)

AnswerID: 346350

Follow Up By: Harry - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:03

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:03
You're on the mark there Oldplodder, John & Val are nearly there.
So why are we Vacuum sealing meat and freezing, your wasting your time. Just freeze. Vacuum sealing saves the added power usage as the meat will last 6 wks at fridge temps depending on which meat, white or red.
Packing in plastic boxes is ok John, but not necessary as newspaper stops package rupture without the extra bulk of a hard plastic box.
And for all, there's the new ARB 47L fridge.(Engel is only 37L) Same price as 40L Engel, digital display where it needs to be and in that a battery level indicator depending on what battery you have set up.
Fridge cuts off if battery reaches low level (3 diff. levels)
Best of all, fits in the same hole as 40L Engel. AND the light goes out when the lid closes not like the Engel. Very well thought out, built and designed for travellers.
The 12v cooler between the seats works a treat too as others have mentioned.
Anybody want to buy 40L Engel :>)
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 22:01

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 22:01

What we actually do is pack the freshly cryovaced meat into plastic boxes then freeze, so very little space is wasted. We freeze because its easier on the batteries to let the fridge at home or in the camp kitchen do the hard work of pulling the temperature of the meat down. To date we have travelled with a 30l Waeco 8 years old. Its never missed a beat and has been quite sufficient for our needs. Supplemented with a less than perfect icebox.
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Follow Up By: Member - Richard H (NSW) - Saturday, Feb 07, 2009 at 12:01

Saturday, Feb 07, 2009 at 12:01
I cryovac meat, and in fact purchased a Sunbeam made machine to do this, & it does this very well. Cheaper than the butcher.

Prior to this I used to get my butcher to do it. He always said not to freeze the cryovaced stuff as it may cause the plastic to puncture & subsequently loose the vacuum. Similarly, he advised against packing snags & mince as air remains in the product and cannot be expelled by the vacuum process, and it will go rotten. We disregarded this, & do snags & mince, to date, no worries.

So I don't freeze, I just keep it very cold. We use a lot of dehydrated stuff as well, so this keeps room in the Engel my plonk to remain cool & for my wife's beer to remain liquid.

So is the butcher's assertion correct?

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Reply By: Member - Duncan W (WA) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:09

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:09
As per above, but what I've found is that unfrozen food stuff will pack better as it will mould into the shape of the container ie shape of the fridge. Now having said that I always start out with frozen cryovaced meat, but I make sure that when packing into the home freezer, pre trip, I pack it as flat as humanly possible so that when I pack my car fridge the meat will stack better. Also look at doing pre cooked meals such as casseroles and curries. You can get these cryovacked or store in containers that can be disposed of or stacked neatly out of the fridge when finished with.

Remember that chicken will not last as long as meat.
Make sure you give back more than you take

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Reply By: Member - Coenens N (WA) - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:43

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 20:43
Hi we started off with a Waeco which was set up as freezer one end and the remainder as fridge. It was unsuccessful as although the freezer worked well while full, the fridge was not really cold enough so we switched to two 40L Engels and use one as a fridge and one as a freezer. The wrapping of fruit and veg in paper in a box also works well. Make sure they are all totally separate and that there is no plastic anywhere. We have travelled for a month like that and had no problems with lost fruit. I am sure you could manage well with one fridge used as a freezer and make some ice to cool your drinks in a small esky. Great travels!
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Reply By: Holden4th - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 21:12

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 21:12
There is some excellent advice here and I'd like to add my two cents worth. I've just done 5 weeks in Tassie using a variety of accommodation ranging from my tent to hotel rooms to van park cabins/vans. I have a 65L Evakool esky and also an old (but reliable) FF40 Waeco car fridge. On outback tours I take the Waeco but for Tassie I chose the esky. It sounds mad but it makes sense.

3 months before the trip I put a 10L and 5L container of water into my freezer. The longer you freeze somethng the longer it takes to thaw (up to a certain point). These two containers became my refrigeration unit. Every 4/5 days I would remove one of the containers and refreeze it wherever I was staying. When I asked "could I put this in your freezer?" I was never refused.

Before departing I used my vac packer to store a lot of food and also froze this for 3 months. This also added to the refrigeration properties of my esky. I took my vac packer with me and vac packed any new food that I bought. All my food (and the beer I also stored) was kept at about 0 to 2 degrees Celsius in the esky. There was no mess from bag ice.

Based on the above, this is what I think you should do.

1 Buy an Evakool fridge/freezer (if you can afford it). It's just as brilliant as the esky at keeping things insulated, especially when the fridge is turned off. Engel and Waeco can't even begin to match the insulation properties of the Evakool.

2 Use the freezer section as a way of keeping a solid block of ice frozen. Put frozen items that are vac packed into the fridge section

3 Put all your other food stuffs in the fridge section, preferably vacuum packed. As you drive, the fridge will keep the ice container frozen via the alternator and the ice will act as a refrigerator when the car is stopped overnight. The ice in the freezer will take a long while to thaw out and can be refrozen very quickly. It basically eliminates the need for a dual/second battery

If I could afford it I'd buy an Evakool tomorrow and combine the best of both worlds

AnswerID: 346442

Reply By: Robin Miller - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 21:15

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 21:15
Hi Jabberwocky

Our experience has been a bit different and has added up to not taken anything that requires freezing.

Over the years we noticed that most issues , food poisoning and food gone off has been the result of bad fridge management which can be as simple as the kids not closing the fridge lid.

Meat and fish tend to be bad news and we are effectivily vegetarians on camping trips. Most vegies kept for a week in just a cardboard box unless in extremes and where we have dishes that require meat stuff we just use TVP , a dry protein substitute that doesn't leave fat smeared dishes behind.

We have simple rule that if the dishes have to be washed (as opposed to wiped clean with a paper towel section) then its not something we should take on a serious trip.

As a result we just need a small fridge (21lt) which fits between the cars front seats.
We also have properly rated 5 day eskies , and these are occasionaly used either filled with drinks or with vegies and a little ice depending on the trip type.

Robin Miller

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Reply By: Jabberwocky - Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 23:37

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009 at 23:37
Thanks eveyone for your great ideas.
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