I guess I better start off by admitting that the title of this post is somewhat misleading. Most of the foods that we refrigerate will require some form of electricity to keep cool unless we are without power due to snow or ice, or live in an area with a climate capable of keeping our refrigerated and frozen food at a safe temperature. Even then we can face some difficulties because many foods that we refrigerate don’t need to freeze. All of those scenarios are pertinent but require their own posts. For this post I’ll stick to the scenario of a power outage in a moderate climate.
It is also relevant to mention that throughout history, even as late as the mid 20th century in the United States, a large portion of the population had no access to refrigeration. Smoking, salt curing, and canning were the prevalent methods of storing meat and produce that would spoil. Each of these topics deserves multiple posts and I hope to cover them soon, however those are preparedness tasks that must be planned and begun far ahead of a power outage. We are considering keeping the things we currently have frozen or refrigerated from spoiling before use in this post.
Why Is Refrigeration Important?
Bacteria have a limited temperature range in which they can survive so we refrigerate or freeze food for the same reason we cook it to a certain temperature, to kill the bacteria. According to FDA.gov, refrigerator temperatures should maintain 40 degrees Fahrenheit and Freezers should maintain 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The FDA also recommends refrigerating or freezing food within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing or within 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Should I Do When I Lose Power?
The first two things we should consider doing after losing power to our refrigerators or freezers is to keep them closed and consider alternate power options. Modern appliances are very well insulated, but the rush of warmer air that enters when the doors are opened takes a while to cool even when the unit is running, so the first move is to keep them shut. If we expect an outage longer that 20-30 minutes and have our other preparedness boxes checked, we should have an alternative power source such as a generator or an inverter to plug our necessities into. Now that we have the doors closed and hopefully some backup power going, we have to think longer term. The old economics adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” comes to mind. Generators need fuel. Batteries need to be charged. If our survival needs outlast our fuel and battery charges, we need to be prepared.
What Good Is An Unplugged Refrigerator?
An unplugged refrigerator or freezer sounds pretty useless, but both actually can serve another important purpose. They can both easily become large ice chests! By adding ice and limiting the amount of time that the doors are opened, we can effectively make our appliances continue working for us without being directly powered. Remember, though, that empty space fills quickly with warm air when the door is opened, its much better to keep the voids in the freezers of fridge full of chilled items or ice whenever possible.
Okay, So Where Do We Get The Ice?
Remember my comment from the beginning of the post? Yep, here’s where we have to have some form of power unless we can go scoop bags of snow up outside. With enough forethought in our prepping journey, we can easily maintain a supply of 12 volt DC power with solar, wind, water, and even manual generators. Once we have a method of charging some batteries, we can start to breathe a little easier if we pick up a few items ahead of time.
The first order of business is establishing a way of getting our foods that we need in an accessible place. If we need to keep the doors closed on our large units to preserve the ice and temperature in them, we need to meal plan for the day and only open them once or twice. Since we can’t safely leave all this food out all day, the answer is to use a separate ice chest for the day with some ice added or we can use a 12 volt cooler, which is basically a refrigerator. If you are interested, the one below is by Coleman and is a well known brand of outdoor gear. Click the picture to check it out.
The next part of the plan is to keep ice packed in every nook that we have open to maintain a safe temperature. Again, a power outage for snow or ice makes this step easier, but here in the southern United States, we are more used to tornados and hurricanes messing up our plans. The answer is still the good old 12 volt DC electrical system. 12 volt ice makers have been around for a while and are staples on boats and RV’s that aren’t regularly connected to the power grid. Using one of these ice makers can make it possible to keep our ice chests and refrigerator/freezers good and cold by adding fresh ice whenever we have space. The one below has the ability to produce 40 lbs. of Ice in a 24 hour period, but you can look at other models that are similar with larger or smaller capacities once you click on the picture. Remember you need to have clean water as well. Click here to visit my post on water
What Else Should I Consider?
It is very hard to maintain a 0 degree environment by adding ice to an ice chest or unpowered freezer. With that in mind we should also consider that it is likely that many of our frozen foods will gradually begin to thaw. Checking the FDA.gov or your local county health department site should give you the recommended procedures and warnings about re-freezing foods after they begin to thaw. As with many of our preps, it’s much better to find and print that information ahead of time than to try and get access to it when you have to have it. You may find that you will have to use your frozen goods in a set amount of time due to the thawing effect, however keeping them refrigerated will extend the life and give you more options to consume or even barter them with others in your group to get the most benefit out of your stores of food.
A Word of Caution: Ice melts and the water has to go somewhere. If you have flooring that can be damaged by water, make sure you roll your refrigerator or freezer onto some sort of liner and make a dam around the base so you can collect and drain off the water that leaks out each time you open the doors. You can also place ice in bags or trays that you can remove and pour off the water without spilling it.
Preserving Foods Without Refrigeration At All
As I have time, I’ll get details on the blog or my YouTube channel, however for the time being, if you want more information on how our ancestors were able to keep the harvest edible through the seasons, click below to join my mailing list and get a great offer on the Lost Ways Book.
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