June 1, 2023

Nothing is scarier than a blackout. Aside from the inevitable death of your cellphone, a grid-down scenario presents challenges to health and safety, especially regarding food.

How do you store the food and keep it cold when your fridge is not working? Thankfully, history provides many valuable lessons.

Should you find yourself without power, there are many easy and accessible ways to keep your food fresh without a refrigerator.

Below we outline our ancestors’ tried and true methods for keeping food cold and discuss strategies that have been updated to fit our modern needs.

While no one wants to imagine a world without power, blackouts happen often. Although power disruptions usually only last a few hours, there are recent examples of power outages lasting for weeks.

In 2003, for example, there was a widespread power outage throughout the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and most of Ontario, Canada. More recently, in 2013, severe weather left many customers in Quebec, Canada, and some of the United States without power for weeks.

Related: 10 Things You Should Never Do When The Power Goes Out

We take things for granted. The invisible force that powers your lights and runs your fridge is less resilient than you think. Any interruption of electricity from the generation system to your home can cause problems and outages.

Thus, a widespread, long-term power outage is a real possibility, and we must prepare.

Create Or Make Use Of A Root Cellar

A root cellar is an underground structure that preserves food, keeping it cold while protecting it from frost. A root cellar keeps food cold, fresh, and away from the harmful rays of the sun.

Root cellars can be created within a basement or completely separate from the house.

The main point of root cellars is that they are situated underground where it is dark and cool. If you don’t have a root cellar, here’s a cheap and easy way to build a root cellar in your backyard.

Store Food In A Nearby Cave Or Cavern

Our ancestors would store their daily catch in the deepest, darkest caves they could find. The deeper the cave, the cooler the temperature inside.

Storing food in caves worked well but eventually shifted as humans spread out. With time, people came up with other ways to keep their food cold. Still, many early methods relied on underground areas because they kept food cold.

Create A Natural Spring Box

An alternative method for storing food is to create a natural spring box. A spring box is a small structure built around a natural spring. Natural spring water is cold and, thus, can preserve food.

If you have a natural spring on your property, you can easily construct a spring box and use it to store food in an emergency.

Bury Food In The Ground

25+ Ways To Keep Food Cold Without ElectricityBurying food may seem strange to us in modern times, but it was once common practice. Keeping food buried underground keeps it cold and fresh by removing oxygen, and sunlight.

Storing food by keeping it buried underground also helps to regulate temperature.

When food is buried, soil acts like insulation and works to retain temperature, cooling stored foods and making them last longer.

Related: What Happens If You Bury A Cabbage Over Winter?

Food burial is still widely practiced in some areas, and has been shown to be effective for food preservation.

If you want to bury food, ensure it is deep enough to retain a cold temperature, and ensure all food is properly stored and sealed.

Hang Food In Wells

Similarly, our ancestors would tie their meals to a rope and hang the food inside a deep water well to keep it cold.

Keep Food In A Nearby Snow Bank

Our early ancestors commonly stored food in an ice cave, glacier, pile of snow, or in a frozen pond or lake.

You can consider yourself lucky if you live in an area with snow. The colder temperatures that create snow provide the perfect environment for food storage.

However, even if you are not in an artic area, many methods exist to safely store food without electricity.

Hang It In A Tree

25+ Ways To Keep Food Cold Without ElectricityA common practice while camping, hanging your food high up in a tree, out of the reach of animals, is an excellent storage option.

The surrounding air temperature in the trees is lower, and food can be hung for short-term storage.

Wrap Food In A Wet Cloth And Hang It In A Shaded Area

Similarly, wrapping food in a damp cloth or towel and hanging it in a shady spot will help it stay cold.

Store Food In A Nearby Stream Or River

Like a cave or well, rivers and streams will keep food cold. Water is often colder than the surrounding air. Hence, the cooler temperature of the water makes it ideal for food storage.

If you find yourself without power and need to store food in a river, you must ensure the food is safely secured in a tightly sealed container. Furthermore, attaching it to the land is also essential so it is not washed away.

Our predecessors were pretty clever when it came to storing and preserving food. In fact, many of the methods we use today have evolved from earlier practices.

It is essential to have a food storage plan in place for a grid-down situation. Storage is easy to overlook when preparing for a disaster because electricity is part of everyday life.

Why You Should Never Hide Your Survival Stockpile In Your Basement

Learning from our ancestors’ lessons, here are more tips for storing food without electricity.

Store Food In A Deep Pit Lined With Straw

25+ Ways To Keep Food Cold Without ElectricityYou can store food in a hole to keep it cold as long as the hole is deep enough to be colder than the outside air, is not in direct sunlight, and is covered. The hole can be covered with a tarp, wet towel, or foliage to insulate and keep it cool. Furthermore, lining the cavity with straw adds insulation that retains temperature.

Use An Ice House

People once worked together to store food and keep it cold. Settling in groups, humans constructed local ice houses.

An ice house (a.k.a. ice well or ice pit) was a storage building for ice. However, ice houses could also be used to keep food cold.

Built partially or fully underground, close to a natural water source, each community had an ice house. The ice house would store snow and ice insulated with straw and used to preserve food.

Sadly, few ice houses remain, but thanks to technology, you can get instructions online and create one of your own.

The internet is one of man’s greatest inventions, and it holds a plethora of information that can teach you how to construct valuable objects.

Use A Fire Pit

25+ Ways To Keep Food Cold Without ElectricityYes, a fire pit can help you store food without power. You can use a fire pit to create a natural cooler. A fire pit that is lined with stones provides natural insulation.

Fill the stone-lined hole with cold water, and use this space to store food in sealed containers.

Related: How To Dig A Native American Dakota Fire Hole

The hole, water, and stones create refrigeration and will remain cool even on a hot summer day. Be sure to cover the hole to block out sunlight.

As you can see, there are many ways to store food outdoors. In fact, minor changes to these suggestions can create even more options. For example, you can store food in a wagon or a shaded outdoor storage area. However, covering it with a damp towel will help it stay colder longer.

There are also ways to store food that you want to keep warm. A hay box, for example, is like a cooler lined with hay. The hay acts as insulation, keeping the contents warm and toasty.

There are so many ideas for storing food without power.

Here are a few more:

  • Wrap food in newspaper and place it in a covered box with ice or ice packs. Dampening the newspaper will also help regulate the temperature.
  • Store food in a well-ventilated room or closet with a damp cloth over it.
  • Keep food in a wooden crate or box with a wet burlap sack.

Off-grid storage is possible, practical, and easy to implement in an emergency if you are prepared.

Should you find yourself in a position where you need to store food without electricity, here are more tips that may help.

Material Matters

The material you choose when storing food matters as much as the method. Some materials retain temperature better than others.

For example, metal and clay keep food cold by retaining temperature, and so does styrofoam. You can purchase various cooling containers online.

The Magic Of Evaporation

Evaporation keeps food cold. In fact, evaporative coolers have been used for centuries.

You can harness this power to keep food fresh by creating an evaporative cooler at home or buying a similar object online.

25+ Ways To Keep Food Cold Without ElectricityThe zeer pot is an example. A zeer pot and similar items consist of two clay pots, one larger than the other.

The internal clay pot is unglazed, and wet sand is packed between the two items. The porous clay allows evaporation to escape, cooling the internal contents.

This gadget is highly effective and is widely popular around the world. You can create a zeer pot or similar device to keep food cold. Alternatively, a clay pot in the fridge works the same way.

Embracing Modernism

While the ingenuity of our ancestors is impressive, we have come a long way and now have access to many items and materials that did not exist in earlier times. Thanks to time and evolution, we have many more ways to store food and keep it cold, even without electricity.

Use a cooler with ice: While it may not be a long-term storage solution, using a commercial cooler to safely store food and keep it fresh is pretty simple.

Use a traditional icebox or ice chest: An icebox is essentially a wooden cooler or fridge lined to create insulation and packed with ice to keep food cold,

Freeze water to store food: You can pack ice or frozen water bottles around food to keep it cold while the power is out.

Solar-powered fridges or coolers: Advancements in technology have allowed us to create many incredible inventions. One of these is the solar-powered fridges and coolers that are widely popular today.

A solar-powered cooler will harness sunlight and convert it to DC power, fueling the system and keeping the contents cold.

Propane-powered cooler systems: Similar to solar-powered systems, propane-powered cooling systems find alternative fuel that helps to keep food cold. These systems can be purchased online and are carefully constructed for safety and efficiency.

Insulated Thermos: While this is not a new or profound invention, the insulated thermos can be used in an emergency to keep food hot or cold. I suggest having a few different sizes available in case of an emergency.

Fears of a large, long-term power outage are justified, and preparing for such an event is essential. Having a stockpile is useless if you are not considering storage. Be sure to cover all your bases and be prepared should the power go out.

I would love to hear what you would add to this list. Share your ideas in the comments.

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