What happens if a storm hits and you’re without power for a week or longer? How long would your food supply last without electricity?
What if you live Off-grid, how will you cool your food? I will answer all of these questions and more in How to keep food cool off Grid & without electricity.
How to Keep Food Cool Off Grid & Without Electricity
No doubt you have seen all the horrific events across the nation and around the world leaving thousands without power?
I myself, have lived through hurricanes on the coast and gone without power, access to stores or ice.
Whether you are without electricity due to a natural disaster or you live Off Grid, knowing alternative ways to keep your food cool is valuable information.
Moving towards and Off-Grid life, we are purposefully seeking methods that don’t rely on electricity for everything in attempt to become more independent and less co-dependent.
Food Storage Safety
So let’s get to the meat and potatoes first- I’m talking about safety.
The first step in food storage is knowing what temperatures food needs to be stored, what is safe and what is dangerous.
I know I don’t want to send any friends or family to the hospital- ya with me?
Some foods need to be stored at 40° F or Below, some from 40- 50° F and others can be fine stored at room temperature.
Therefore, you need to know what foods require what temperature.
Foods to Store at 40° F and Below
According to the FDA, foods that require refrigeration should be kept at a temperature at or below 40° F (4° C), such as:
- Dairy Products
- Cooked Foods
- Opened Condiments
Foods You Can Store At Room Temperature
Foods that can be stored without refrigeration include (but not limited to):
- Unopened Canned Food
- Dried beans, rice, pasta
- Winter Squash
All Other Foods
In addition to the above list, you can read a complete list of recommended produce storage temps from the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Zeer Pot or Pot Cooler to Keep Food Cool
Ever hear of a Zeer Pot or a Pot Cooler? Their use dates back to 2500 B.C. in Egypt and many remote areas still use them to keep their food cool.
The premise of using Zeer Pots to keep food cool without electricity is by using a method called evaporative cooling.
When the water in the pot evaporates, it draws the heat outward thus lowering the temperature of the inside pot.
As a matter of fact, I have made a zeer pot as an experiment and instantly noticed the interior chamber 10° cooler than the outside temperature.
Using Sand To Keep Food Cool Without Electricity & Off Grid
Many root vegetables can be stored in sand for months without any refrigeration whatsoever.
Such as: carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, ginger and more.
Storing root vegetables in sand helps keep the moisture, air and humidity at the right temperature in order to prevent ripening and rotting.
Much like the Zeer Pot, an evaporative cooler is a device that cools air through the evaporation of water.
Evaporative cooling is the addition of water vapor into air, which causes a lowering of the temperature of the air.
Another type of cooler that uses this same principal to store food without electricity is a Swamp Cooler.
However, Swamp Coolers require electricity. You can learn how to build your own evaporation cooler.
Keeping Foods Cool In A Root Cellar Without Electricity
No doubt one of the methods for keeping food cool that you may be more familiar with is Root Cellars.
They are more commonplace today for storing root vegetables, canned goods, fruits and nuts.
Most of the root cellars you will see are buried either partially or fully into the ground.
There are several different types of root cellars, to learn more check out this article Root Cellars 101- Root Cellar Design, Use and Mistakes to Avoid
Keeping Food Cold in A Spring House or a Well House
During a visit to Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina, (pictured above) I was able to tour a Spring House from the 1600’s.
It was a very unique concrete building that was noticeably cooler, even in the humid heat of South Carolina.
The water from the natural spring was so cold one would be uncomfortable to keep your hand submerged for very long.
Back in the 18th century, before the days of conventional refrigeration, small buildings were constructed over springs.
Food was kept in pottery and placed in the cold spring water to keep food cool without electricity.
They also kept food stored in the Spring House like a root cellar.
You can learn more about the history of Spring Houses.
Coal or Charcoal Coolers
Much like the Zeer Pot and Evaporation Cooler, the Coal Cooler uses the principal of evaporative cooling to maintain a cool interior temperature for refrigeration and food preservation.
The device is constructed from an open timber frame with charcoal filled sides, which is kept continually moist.
As warm, dry air flows through the moist charcoal, water is evaporated into the air and it is cooled.
The basic principles of heat and mass transfer underlie the function of the charcoal cooler.
Instructions On How to Make A Charcoal Cooler to Keep Food Cool Without Electricity
Materials you would need to make your own coal cooler are:
- Hose For Water
>> Complete instruction guide.
Insulated Cooler , Ice or Dry Ice
And lastly you have the traditional coolers with ice or dry ice.
While this is a great option, and you can easily keep food at the proper temperature, it’s not a self-sufficient option.
You would need to purchase ice often and have a store near by. But in a pinch or for a short time, this is a quick fix.
In addition to refrigeration, there are many other ways to preserve food.
Some Food Storage Ideas are:
- Dehydration- Dehydrating Food
- Waxing- How to Wax Cheese
- Canning- How to Can Food At Home
- Freeze Dried- Home Freeze Drying
- Salt Cured- How to Salt and Smoke Cure Meats
- Oil Curing- How to Preserve Food With Olive Oil
- Fermenting- How to Ferment Vegetables
When using alternate methods for keeping food cool, food safety should be a top priority. Food poisoning is not a fun thing. In fact, it can be life-threatening.
Although most food poison cases often improve without treatment after 48 hrs, food poisoning can be very serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women and their fetuses, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
Be aware that food can make you very sick even when it doesn’t look, smell, or taste spoiled. That’s because foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, which are different from the spoilage bacteria that make foods “go bad.” Many pathogenic organisms are present in raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs; unclean water; and on fruits and vegetables. Keeping these foods properly chilled will slow the growth of bacteria.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Food Poisoning Symptoms can be:
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
If you suspect you have food poison, seek medical attention immediately.
My husband always says “When in doubt, throw it out”. Above all- be safe & never eat food that is questionable.
Do you have a method to keep food cool that I didn’t mention?
Send us a comment or email so we can add it to the list and share with others!
Saturday 19th of March 2022
My doctor told me a story from his trip to Saharan Africa: bus stop was in a small village without electricity, just few huts in the sun. As an European, doctor was suffering in that hot dry heat. A local came and asked him is there something he can give him. Thinking he'll make a polite joke, doctor started his answer with: "If I'll be honest, that would be a bottle of cold beer..." and local just turned and went away. In few minutes he was back, carrying a dewy bottle of cold beer!
Doctor's amazement was so big that man invited him in his house. After few minutes of walking on Sahara sand, they came to a pit. It was like a square, with several doors leading in houses dug in the ground. When they climbed down there, doctor saw it was full of life: few families, from old ones to children playing around. And it was COOL. Temperature and humidity of air were PERFECT. Beers were cooled in something like your Zeer Pots, and pots were made of clay, standing in the entrance of something like our chimneys, who were producing breeze.
For other systems: depends where you live. For example my house is on clay, and clay is always cold. So in summers we live in a corner that's dug in clay, in winters we move upstairs:-)
Monday 26th of July 2021
Thanks very good article
Monday 12th of April 2021
best article ever. thank you so much!!!
Wednesday 7th of April 2021
I totally agree that food poisoning is not a fun thing and should be considered life-threatening. We once went on a camping trip and almost consumed food that had gone bad because of improper storage. I think that we have to keep our supplies in a bag full of ice next time to avoid the same thing from happening.
Sunday 3rd of May 2020
That is great. one good article