Is Electricity Really Necessary to Keep Food Cold?

Regardless of whether you love or hate country music – or don’t really care one way or the other – you have to admit there are some pretty funny song titles.

Such as, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” As well as “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” And “My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend (And I Sure Do Miss Him).”

A few others are, “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too,” “She Made Toothpicks of the Timber of My Heart” and “Thank God and Greyhound (You’re Gone).”

And then there’s one that reminds me of today’s subject: how to keep food and beverages cold without electricity. It’s, “If You Wanna Keep Your Beer Cold (Put It Next to My Ex-Wife’s Heart).”

Yes, there are ways to keep food and beverages cold other than refrigeration. Which is a good thing because fridges and freezers don’t work when your power is out. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Root cellars do the job

Some people toss all their fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator when they get home from the store. Just out of habit.

But many fruits and veggies don’t require refrigeration. The optimal temperature for many of them is 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You may be able to find a place in your home or on your property where that general temperature range is kept.

If not, another option is a root cellar. These are basically like the man-made caves our ancestors used to keep food cool. Root cellars use the natural cooling, insulating and humidifying properties of the earth. 

They are especially effective for root vegetables. Such as potatoes, carrots and beets. But they also work for canned goods, fruits and nuts.

Add to the pot

As far as food you’ve already cooked is concerned, it may not need refrigeration if eaten fairly soon.

You could keep it in a covered pot at room temperature for a while. Just make sure to consume it throughout the day or at your next meal. 

If the power is out, don’t worry about whether a certain food is normally eaten at a particular meal.

The key is to not waste any of that food. Eating it before it goes bad will keep you nourished as you deal with the power outage.

Zeer pots go way back

Another way to keep food and beverages cold without electrical power is to create a

zeer pot. These pots date back to 2500 B.C. in Egypt.

You can Google this for more specifics, but the basics are placing a smaller pot inside a large pot. Clay is the ideal material for the pots.

Place what you want to keep cool in the smaller pot. Then fill the space between the pots with sand.

Cover your pot-in-pot with a wet cloth. As the water in the cloth evaporates, it will pull warm air outward. This will cause the inside of the pot to become cooler than the outside air.

Solar ovens are cool

When we think of solar ovens, we think of cooking food or heating water. But that same oven can be used to cool food.

Set your solar oven so that its reflectors will release the oven’s heat into the clear night sky, which serves as a heat sink.

To turn your solar oven into a radiant refrigerator, place a jar or pan containing your food inside it. Place bags with air pockets (or filled with water) around the jar or pan for insulation.

Let it sit outside overnight. Make sure to retrieve your food from the jar or pan before temperatures start to rise the next morning. Consume the food that day.

Evaporative refrigerator

On the top shelf of a heavy-duty plastic utility shelving unit, place shallow pans of water. Place the food you want to keep cool on other shelves.

Cover the entire unit with burlap or a heavy cloth fabric. Wet the material and wrap it as securely around the unit as possible. Secure it with clamps or clothespins.

Make sure to keep some of the burlap or cloth hanging directly into the pans of water.

The water wicking down the fabric will evaporate. This will cause whatever is on the shelves to cool. Add more water to the pans as needed.

Keep it moving 

Another option is keeping your food in running water. Still water won’t work as well because it’s warmer than running water.

The movement of water exposes more of it to the air, increasing the amount of evaporation.

A moving stream is ideal for this. Of course, your food will need to be securely contained so that potentially contaminated water doesn’t get into it. Not to mention fish.

Campers and backpackers have been keeping food and beverages cool with this method for years.

A DIY project 

If you really want to carry this concept of cooling food without electricity to the next level, build yourself a coal or charcoal cooler.

You’ll need items including wood, wire, nails, coal, a hose for water, a door and hinges. You can search the Internet for a step-by-step process.

But the basics are this. The device is constructed from an open timber frame with charcoal-filled sides. Keep those sides moist.

As warm, dry air flows through the moist charcoal, water evaporates and whatever is inside is cooled. 

Power outages can spoil food in a few hours. But if you’re ready with some cool alternatives, you can salvage much of your supply.

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