Keep Food Cold Without Electricity?

Have you ever felt good about loading up your refrigerator and freezer with food and beverages, only to experience a power outage?

If that has ever happened to you – or even if your refrigerator and freezer were no more than half-full when a blackout occurred – you probably wondered if those contents would stay edible prior to the power returning.

The United States Department of Agriculture offers this guideline. Anything left unrefrigerated for over four hours at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is at risk of developing food-borne bacteria that could lead to illness.

Even if your food stays frozen, you don't want to keep it frozen for too long before eating it. Registered dietician Allison Tepper has offered some tips regarding how long certain foods can maintain their flavor while frozen. 

To summarize her thoughts, cooked meats, soups, casseroles, rice, and pasta should stay good when frozen for two to three months. Cheese can stay tasty for six months, nuts and herbs for a year, and flour for two years.

Before a power outage ...

Let's go over some before, during, and after advice for keeping your food cold during a blackout. 

Before a power outage, know what the temperatures are inside your fridge and freezer. A new refrigerator might show those temps on an outside display so you don't have to open either to find out. Otherwise, use the inside thermometers.

Freeze containers of water and gel packs, and keep several coolers handy, depending on how much food you normally keep in your fridge and freezer. 

If you don't have a cooler, buy plenty of ice to keep in your freezer and be ready to place it up against the food you most want to keep cold. 

During a power outage...

Keep your freezer and refrigerator doors closed. The more often you open those doors during an outage, the warmer the contents will become.

By keeping your refrigerator and freezer doors closed, food should stay safe for up to four hours in the fridge, 48 hours in a full freezer, and 24 hours in a half-full freezer.

After those hours pass and the power is still out, place your frozen containers of water and frozen gel backs into your coolers, along with your food. 

Periodically check the temperature within the cooler, but not too often, as you don't want to add warmth to the inside by opening it. 

After a power outage...

Once your power is back on, you may be tempted to smell or taste your food to see if it's still good. The problem here is that food can go bad without smelling bad. And even a small taste of a food item that has spoiled could make you sick. 

Be especially careful with meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers. When in doubt, throw it out.

Check the temperature of your food that you attempted to keep cold. If it's above 40 degrees, get rid of it.

If any of your food has changed color or texture, toss it out. But it's OK to re-freeze thawed food from your freezer if its temperature is 40 or lower. Even if you see some ice crystals. 

4 more cooling hacks

Let me conclude with 4 additional hacks for keeping food cold without electricity: 

A zeer pot is made up of two different-sized unglazed clay pots. Place the smaller one inside the larger one, with sand filling the space between them. After putting food in the smaller pot, pour cold water into the sand. As the water evaporates, it will cool food in the smaller pot.

The same type of evaporative cooling can be accomplished by placing food on a shelving unit, wrapping fabric around that unit, and pouring cold water on the fabric, periodically adding more water. It works even better if a breeze is reaching the shelving unit.

Campers and backpackers have used this food-cooling trick for many years. Evaporation helps running groundwater stay cool, and the more movement the water experiences, the cooler it becomes. Food that's fully secured in a container and placed in that water will stay cool. 

Many years ago, our forebears discovered their food would stay cooler and fresher when placed underground. This can be done by hanging food down into a well. Or better yet, by digging out a root cellar, which is particularly effective for root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes.

Losing power is a bummer, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to lose the food you keep in your refrigerator and freezer. The above advice can help you get through the outage without having to toss out the food you worked hard for. 

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