Transport Thanksgiving Food Safely With These Tips

At some point we've all been tasked with the thankless Thanksgiving job of holding a hot casserole dish on our laps while the family drives to Grandmother's house. And how about getting all those leftovers home after Thanksgiving dinner? While Auntie May's pumpkin pie may seem perfectly pleasant perched atop a lace doily on the dining-room table, it can become a dangerous projectile if not secured properly in the car.

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A study of children involved in car crashes conducted by Intel Corp. and the University of California-Irvine revealed some alarming statistics:

  • Of the more than 12,500 children injured by an item inside the car during a crash, at least 3,000 collided with unrestrained objects, a passenger or both.
  • "Unrestrained cargo may even cause death in a frontal crash by striking an occupant's seatback."
  • "Loose objects [in the car] can become lethal … even in emergency braking."
  • To help out you and your family this Thanksgiving, I selflessly volunteered to indulge in some early holiday grub and experiment to find the best techniques to safely and cleanly transport your holiday feast favorites in the car. You can thank me later.

Casserole Dishes

Piping-hot casserole dishes can literally be a pain to the person in the car holding them in their lap. The heat from the dish itself can burn your spouse's lap — not to mention the damage that could occur if it spills and your hubby is left with 350-degree green-bean casserole drippings on his, well, you get the idea. Placing the casserole dish on the floor rather than on someone's lap isn't much better. Do you really want to be cleaning oyster stuffing out of your car's carpet and floormats for the next three months?

Instead, invest in a travel casserole dish. I purchased one from Target recently for just $14. It comes with a Pyrex casserole dish, a rubber lid, a microwaveable gel pouch to help keep the goodies hot on the road and an insulated carrying case. If you're doing double duty and bringing the sweet potatoes as well as the stuffing, this double-decker expandable casserole hauler from Rachael Ray might work wonders for you.

You don't, however, want your travel casserole dish to be sitting loose on the car's floor. If you have to brake quickly to avoid another holiday road warrior, the casserole dish could become a danger to your passengers.

Instead, try securing your travel casserole dish in your car's trunk, safely away from the passenger compartment. You can borrow a grippy drawer liner from your silverware drawer to help keep the travel casserole dish from sliding around.

If you don't have a travel casserole dish and don't want to invest in one, you can use a casserole dish with a lid and secure the lid with two rubber bands. This can then be secured inside a tote basket or laundry basket lined with towels. The basket can be stashed snugly on the floor behind the driver's seat or better yet, secured in your car's cargo space using a few bungee cords and the tie-down anchor points in the cargo floor. If the dish happens to leak during transport, the towels will soak up any messes. If you don't have a leak, your kids can roll the towels up after dinner and use them as pillows on the drive home to sleep off that turkey-induced fog.

Slow Cookers

By some estimates, something weighing just 20 pounds (read: a fully loaded slow cooker) can hit a person with 600 pounds of force if involved in a crash while the car is moving at just 35 mph. Slow cookers with locking lids are the surefire option for transporting food in the car and will help keep any leaks or spills from getting on your car's upholstery. Try this one, which has the added benefit of a travel temperature gauge.

Again, you ideally want to keep slow cookers out of the passenger compartment. If that's not feasible, use the laundry basket technique described above.

Portable 12-Volt Heater/Coolers

If you're serious about keeping your sweet potatoes at the perfect temperature while on the road, a portable 12-volt heater/cooler is the way to go. This plugs into the 12-volt outlet in your car, can be switched to heat or cool, and keeps your marshmallow-crusted sweet-potato puree inside it at a consistent 140 degrees. While you're limited as to where you can secure it in the car based on where the outlet is located, you still want to secure it safely. Again, getting creative with bungee cords is a great option.

Pies

If I had my way, we'd skip right to the pumpkin pie at any family celebration. I've inherited the role of pie baker from my late father, and nothing but the best will do for transporting the star of the holiday show to my brother's house for our family dinner. Give this insulated pie carrier from eBags a go. Bonus: It comes in several cute prints and colors to liven things up. To transport multiple pies, try stacking your pies on the tiers of a bamboo steamer as suggested by Bon Appetit.

Just to reiterate: You don't want a pie to hit you in the back of the head if you get in a crash, so secure it in the trunk. Use the grippy-drawer-liner technique to keep your pie carrier from sliding around, or better yet, stash it in the laundry basket next to your casserole.

All Those Yummy Leftovers

If you're going to take some goodies home, come prepared and arrive with your own plastic storage containers and zippered plastic bags. Pack a load of disposable plastic containers in a reusable waterproof shopping tote. Then you can pack the containers full and have a convenient tote at the ready to carry them to the car.

Use the bungee-secured laundry basket you used earlier to transport your pie and casserole dish to dinner to get your leftovers home.

If you have any additional tips or suggestions for keeping your car clean and your passengers safe while transporting Thanksgiving Day food on the road, share them with us in the comment section below. If we don't reply right away, we're stuffing our faces (in the name of journalistic integrity) with pumpkin pie.

Cars.com illustrations by Paul Dolan