We all know that when the power goes out, one of the challenges is keeping food cold so that it will be usable longer. If the power is out for only a short time (like only a few hours), as long as you keep the refrigerator closed as much as possible, your food will be fine. But what about a long-term power outage? How can you keep food cold enough to be safe to eat?
Our ancestors survived without a refrigerator for a very long time. The refrigerator wasn’t even invented until 1834, so how did people manage before then?
Depending on what food you’re trying to keep from spoiling, there are different ways to do so. In fact, some foods that we may normally keep in the fridge don’t actually need to be refrigerated. Let’s look at some food groups.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits are generally all right kept on the counter, though some won’t last as long without being cold. Some that last really well include apples, oranges, and other thick-skinned fruits. Harder to keep longer are bananas and mangoes. The hardest fruits to keep from going bad without refrigeration are berries — eat these right away, or within a day.
Vegetables are a bit easier. Several types can last for months without refrigeration. These include potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and squash. Others can last for weeks, such as tomatoes, peppers, and carrots. Still others can last up to a week on the counter if the cut end is put in water. These include lettuce, celery, cauliflower, and broccoli, among others.
One important key is to not wash the fruit or vegetable until you are ready to use it. (Washing makes it easier for bacteria to enter.) Also, it helps to never have refrigerated it so the item isn’t affected by condensation.
We tend to think that eggs have to be in the refrigerator, but that isn’t actually the case. If they are fresh from a nest, just don’t wash them. (Washing takes off the “bloom” that the egg is made with, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter.) You can also make eggs last longer by keeping them colder in a basement, or by coating eggs with coconut oil or food grade mineral oil. That seals the pores on the egg and keeps oxygen out, thus preserving the egg similarly to the bloom. Eggs treated this way can last for several months.
Dairy can be tricky to preserve. Butter and hard cheeses can be OK out of the refrigerator, though of course, the cooler temperatures of a basement are preferable. Milk, however, is almost impossible to preserve outside a refrigerator. Instead, buy milk in smaller quantities or use powdered or canned milk as you need it. eFoods Direct sells a powdered milk that is quite good.
Fresh meats won’t keep without refrigeration. Instead, cook it the same day and eat as much as you can. Leftovers can be stored safely for a day in a cooler. Another good option is to buy preserved meat — canned, cured (such as salami), or dried (like jerky). You can also preserve it in one of these ways yourself. Obviously, these will store for much longer.
Other items we usually keep in the fridge are condiments: jams, jellies, syrup, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. These will actually do just fine for a few weeks. In the case of mayo, just be careful to not contaminate the container with bacteria (use a clean utensil every time you dip inside, or use a squeeze bottle). Honey is even more amazing; it lasts forever. If it crystallizes, all you have to do is reheat it to make it a liquid again.
We tend to think that we have to have a refrigerator, yet some people have chosen to go off the grid and lessen their power consumption by eliminating a refrigerator altogether. If you want to do that, now you know how. If you don’t want to get rid of your fridge anytime soon, at least you’ll know more about keeping the things currently in your refrigerator edible, if (or should I say when?) the need ever arises.