Carrying Fresh Food On A Bike Tour

Bike Touring In Denmark You’re on a bike tour so you want to eat well, but how do you keep food fresh without a refrigerator? That’s what one of our readers recently asked.

How do you manage to keep your food fresh? If you buy some meat or eggs, for example, how do you keep them cool? Maybe you buy fresh things just before you cook? -Denise

The short answer is that most things will keep much longer outside of a fridge than you probably think. Unless it’s a blazing hot summer day, there’s little (aside from fresh meat and milk) that won’t keep for 6-8 hours in your panniers. You certainly don’t need to resort to expensive, freeze-dried meals for bike touring.

Most vegetables will last at least 2 days in your panniers and many hardy fruits, vegetables, dried and cured foods will easily withstand several days of travel – especially if you pack them deep inside the bags, far from direct sunlight.

Foods that travel well include:

  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Kale
  • Pumpkin
  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Peanut butter
  • Powdered milk
  • Dried fruits
  • Cured meats (salami, chorizo)
  • Tinned fish
  • Salami
  • Hard cheeses (cheddar, parmesan)

Some things may surprise you by how well they keep outside of a fridge in normal temperatures. This Mango & Avocado salsa, for example, is made from ingredients that would easily travel well for 2-3 days.

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Eggs are another example. They’re sold refrigerated in North America, leading many of us to believe that they must be kept cool. In Europe and many other places worldwide, however, eggs are routinely kept on normal shelves at room temperature (here’s why). We’ve also found that salted butter keeps just fine for 5-7 days, even in hotter climates. We do keep it in a screw-top jar to prevent spills (in case it melts a bit during the day).

Other tips for storing food on a bike tour include:

  • Buy produce that is almost (but not quite) ripe. By the time it bounces around on your bike for a day or two, it’ll be perfect.
  • Don’t wash or prepare the food until you’re ready to eat it. This speeds up spoilage.
  • Use paper bags or mesh fabric bags to store fresh food, rather than plastic. Produce needs to be able to breathe.
  • Store delicate food like tomatoes and bananas inside a pot or other hard container, to prevent bruising.
  • If you really want fresh meat and you’re worried about it going bad before the end of the day, buy something frozen as well, such as a small bag of frozen peas. Then you can use the peas as an ‘ice pack’ to keep the meat cool.
  • Carry a small insulated bag to keep fresh things cooler for longer.

Want more food inspiration? See some of our favourite bike touring recipes.

Comments

  1. bhanu
    24th March 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I can heartily second carrots. They just seem to last forever without going bad plus they make a good weight vs stomach fill ratio. Also freezer bags / ziplock bags make good lightweight alternative to glass / plastic jars. When in doubt double bag it.

  2. Shana Carranco
    25th March 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Made the Mango/Avocado salad you recommend along with salmon. Oh it was so good!

  3. Ingrid
    26th March 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    We love eggs but we seldom get the chance to buy just before setting up the tent. That means we usually boil the eggs directly in front of the store, where we both them. They will stay ok for 3 to 4 days and fill your stomac. Our other experience is that you can’t keep bananas in panniers. We transport them open in a net on the top of our rack.

    • Andrea
      30th March 2012 at 3:15 am #

      Eggs last quite a while before going off out of a fridge. The main thing you need to do if you don’t want to boil them is worry about them breaking. Try wrapping them individually in plastic wrap and put the back in the carton. Wrap the whole carton well in clothes and don’t put heavy things on top of them in your panniers.

      Certainly if you want to boil them to save potential breakages, they will keep for a few days. But because the shell is porous, its a good idea to coat the shell in vaseline to prevent this.

  4. Paul
    27th March 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    How does one go about carrying uncooked eggs in your panniers on a bumpy track? Do I pre-scramble them and pour them into a jar?

    • Pat Evans
      1st April 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      I bought an egg container from a camping supply store. Be carefull, there is a specific way to put the eggs in the carrier. I did a 3 week tour last summer with no problems(once I fiquired out which way to eggs go into the carrier). This is a cheap way to carry eggs.

  5. friedel
    28th March 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Paul, we just keep our eggs in the carton and lay them carefully near the top of a pannier so they can’t be crushed. They’re more robust than you think!

  6. Brenda Cupryna
    28th March 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Hi Friedel
    Glad to see you posting again. We hope to get away in Yorkshire this Easter. I made a cool box that I carry on my back rack. It’s a plastic washing powder box that I with closed cell foam both inside and outside. In it I carry a tiny stove and gas and we carry fresh foods in there too. Bananas really don’t travel well but dried fruit does. We use large plastic powdered drink jars to carry oats and then use dried fruits and seeds with powdered milk to make a hot porridge or we use it cold with plain yogurt. It’s also useful to carry some plain flour and this can be used to mke pancakes or with a bit of instant yeast , bread. Yes it can be cooked on a camp stove but best on a rest day.
    We’ve had some lovely spring days and we’ve been able to get in 120 miles each week. Saturday, we did 50 miles. I’m just so grateful to still be able to cycle so far. Hope you’ve been able to get out with the baby in the chariot.
    Best wishes
    Brenda in the Boro UK

  7. Graeme
    29th March 2012 at 10:03 am #

    During a rest day I made too much carrot soup. So I boiled it down so it was effectively vegetable mush and stuck it in a spare water bottle. Worked well as a first night dinner just adding some more water. Don’t think it weighed much more than the raw ingredients. I’d do this again.

    I have quite a lightweight set-up so anything fresh tends to be a first day or two treat. Will usually carry a few bananas but they are my first day energy bars.

    Just finished the Molesworth Road and am now heading for Geraldine to head for Tekapo etc. Friedel, your info and recommendations have been very helpful.

  8. jatackett
    29th March 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    having a food allergy (corn/soy) i have to stay away from prepackage food..that being said i stick to fresh almost ripe veggies and fruits as you mention… i buy just enough for 1 to 2 days use…i carry a small insulated lunch sandwich bag for picking up frozen meats such as chicken thighs or deli meats and cheese (cheddar) again just enough for 1 or 2 days supply…also dry powder milk best invention since slice bread…if i do buy eggs it is usually half a dozen…that way i can hard boil them…everything is to plan on how to transport and keep your supplies fresh and not to attract the midnight raiders…and not to feel being weighted down ….it can be done..i know i have been doing it for awhile…great subject matter…

  9. Andrea
    30th March 2012 at 3:22 am #

    I don’t bother with fresh foods at all unless i’m only going to carry it for a day. What’s the point, its all so heavy. There are plenty of ways to eat healthy and get your vitamins. One very overlooked option by anglo cook/cyclists is dried beans and pulses. All you have to do to make cooking these foods easy is to soak the beans etc overnight or through the day in a plastic pot with a well sealed lid. I use a 1kg honey pot that supermarkets sell here. the plastic is not brittle and the pot doubles as an eating bowl and storage for other bitsy things when otherwise not in use.

    Dried vegetables is something that i haven’t really experimented yet with though for shorter trips its a very good idea. You can get dehydrators and prepare whole meals before dehydrating. Or just dehydrate your own vegies and fruit.

    Since i don’t carry dehydrated vegies except what i buy from the shop i realy on a multivitamin pill and meanwhile have fresh garlic for flavour and sachets of tomato paste. These are my only consolations to carrying fresh or water rich foods. I have enough weight in my gear as it is, i don’t want to add to it unnecessarily. I’m also going to try powdered eggs on my next outback trip.

  10. Freddie & Guy
    5th April 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    We met some cyclists in the Australian outback who only ate couscous for 2 weeks… But if you are a little more creative it’s amazing what you can come up with. We ate pretty well during our 3 months in the Outback, even with up to 8 days between food stops. We bought everything dried if possible, e.g. dried peas, parmesan, onions, garlic, milk powder etc. We also always had pasta, tomato paste, herbs, tuna and parmesan with us as it was our favourite dinner. We craved fresh fruit and vegies though and were so desperate that we paid $4 for a tomato when we did finally make it to a shop!!

    • Andrea
      6th April 2012 at 12:33 am #

      Freddie and Guy, your food list is almost exactly the same as mine when i was in the outback. Strangely i didn’t have those cravings for fresh vegies, maybe i was getting enough vitamins – this last trip i did, i had a multivitamin. taht said it was great when people would give me some fresh fruit. And when i was in town i ate lots of fresh fruit and vegies. Had some great meals. I”ve never had to pay $4 for a tomato though. Couscous for two weeks! that’s almost sinful. Certainly crazy.

    • friedel
      6th April 2012 at 8:20 am #

      Australia is particularly good in having access to dried food… I think the ‘outback’ mentality ensures that. In other countries it’s not so easy to find these things.

      • Andrea
        6th April 2012 at 12:15 pm #

        What do you mean? No legumes/lentils etc? We don’t have much in the way of dried vegies available.

        • friedel
          9th April 2012 at 7:51 am #

          Red lentils are usually available, and sometimes dried mushrooms, though they’re usually a gourmet item and very expensive. I’ve never seen dried green peas, carrots, onions and garlic anywhere other than Australia (except for onion / garlic powder). Milk powder is also hard to find in many places.

      • Andrea
        9th April 2012 at 8:39 am #

        Friedel i wouldn’t recommend any one here buy dried garlic or onions. they would be expensive and are sold in little glass jars. You can’t buy dried carrot. Only dried green peas and dried mashed potato called Deb. This doesn’t really amount to much. I always buy fresh garlic. It lasts well, doesn’t take up much room and packs a punch for its size. Yes its true powdered milk is still widely available. Travelling where you cant buy that would be tough. Most developing countries sell dried powdered milk unless its easily available fresh. In europe you don’t need much dried food really as you are always passing just by a shop that day. I don’t know about america but i would assume it would be similar. Australia is such a sparsely populated country and food has to travel a long way to most shops in small towns. So yeah, maybe in some respects we have more choice of dried foods. Its been a while since i’ve been shopping in a european supermarkets. Ours are changing a lot too. There’s a lot of prepared meals in packets but a lot of them are awful, they are generally expensive and a cyclist would two packs to satisfy you for one meal.

  11. Biking Chris
    27th April 2012 at 1:37 am #

    Carrots, apples, bread and sweet stuff, like scott short bread or belgian chocolate. And of course lots of italian pasta. 1 little can of sardines + pasta + 1 tomato + 1 onion + 1 apple + Bouillon can make a real real good dinner for two. But the most important are cookies for emergencies.

    Good restaurants as you can find in France or Italy (+ the money to pay) are also a big help. But the most important things are water, salt and pasta.

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