Refrigeration is the method of keeping food for a long time under cold temperatures that inhibit microorganism multiplication.
Using electricity is the best method to achieve it. But are there ways of refrigerating without electricity?
An off-grid lifestyle can sometimes mean living without electricity or limited access to electrical power.
However, that does not mean you need to do away with keeping food for a long time. Refrigeration is still possible without electricity.
In this article, we will discuss ways of keeping food cold without electricity. As an off-gridder, you need to master one or more of these methods of refrigerating food because you do not have access to utility power.
- How To Keep Food Cold Without Electricity
- 8 Ways To Refrigerate Without Electricity
- Tips to Refrigerate Without Electricity
- Wrapping Up
How To Keep Food Cold Without Electricity
Cold temperatures inhibit the multiplication of bacteria, thereby keeping the food longer. Every food has some bacteria.
Under ideal conditions, the bacteria multiply quickly, leading to faster food spoilage. It takes longer for bacteria to grow on the food under refrigeration or freezing.
Refrigeration is best achieved using a refrigerator. This kitchen appliance requires electricity to operate, which might not be accessible when living off the grid.
Fortunately, there are ways of keeping the food cold without it. You do not need electricity to extend the shelf lifespan of your foods.
You can check our list of foods with long shelf life.
The different methods of keeping the food cold without electricity include the following:
- Use a Zeer Pot.
- Buy fridges that do not use electricity.
- Make root cellars.
- Make an evaporative refrigerator.
- Store food underground.
- Use running water.
- Build a spring house.
- Make an icebox.
8 Ways To Refrigerate Without Electricity
We will talk about all the possible eight ways of keeping food cold without electricity here. Please note that you can use any of these methods depending on your location. Some may not be applicable in your area.
Buy Fridges No Electricity
Did you know that some fridges do not require electricity to keep your food cold?
High-quality coolers and propane fridges are very effective in refrigerating food without the stress of utility power. But how do they work?
Not all coolers will refrigerate the food and keep it cold, but a high-quality cooler will. Coolers use ice and insulation properties to keep the inside conditions cold.
The insulation layer is made of foam plastic, which slows down the air circulation within the cooler.
How coolers work
High-quality coolers rely on convection to slow down air movements. But do you recall what convection is from your science lessons?
This is a process by which heat moves in a compartment through air currents. It is impossible to stop convection, but it can be significantly reduced.
Inside the cooler, conduction is also not possible. Conduction is the heat transfer from one body at a higher temperature to another body at a lower temperature.
The inside of a cooler is lined with foam or plastic, which is a poor conductor of heat.
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Food storage time
The time that food will take in your cooler depends on the food itself and some other factors. Coolers can keep inside temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, making the food stay long without spoiling.
Once the temperature rises, foods should be taken out and used within two hours.
Perishable foods such as meat, fish, poultry, and ground meat can go bad very quickly and become unhealthy for human consumption.
They can be kept in a cooler for about one to two days. Steaks and chops are more resilient and can stay fresh in a cooler for three to four days.
How to Improve the Efficiency of Coolers
You can improve the efficiency of a cooler by first packing the food appropriately and filling the cooler with food.
Filling it means there is less air space for convection. Consequently, the inside temperature can stay cold for a long time.
The prices of coolers vary depending on the quality and capacity. You can check them out on Amazon and buy what is within your budget.
Unlike electric refrigerators that use coolants to keep the inside temperatures cold, propane refrigerators rely on chemical reactions.
The chemical reaction is initiated by a flame from the burning propane gas, the reason why they are referred to as propane refrigerators.
How Propane Fridges Work
The flames heats a mixture of water and ammonia until it boils. This rises up to the condenser, where it is cooled to a liquid.
The liquid ammonia mixture flows to the evaporator, where it mixes with hydrogen gas. This triggers an endothermic reaction where heat is absorbed from the storage chamber.
After absorbing enough heat, ammonia and hydrogen gas both mix with water. Ammonia and water form a solution, and hydrogen gas is released back to the evaporator. The cycle then continues.
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The Efficiency of Propane Fridges
Propane refrigerators are the best choice for an off-grid lifestyle. They are highly efficient and can store food for quite a long time, just like electric refrigerators would do.
The fuel is affordable and can be stored in bulk without any dangers.
Propane fridge prices vary significantly depending on size and quality. However, you can get high-quality for under 200 dollars on Amazon.
But if you have enough to spend, you can go for high-end propane fridges, which cost more.
Storing Underground Or Old Well
Before the invention of electricity, refrigerators, and coolers, man used the underground to keep food cold.
It is cooler underground than above the ground. You might have probably realized that your basement is much colder than the floors above it.
Our ancestors used caves to store food. But since these are no longer available, you can dig a sizable hole or use an old well.
Some people have also constructed cold rooms within their homes as natural food stores.
How to Make an Underground Food Storage Unit
It is a bonus if you already have an old well that no longer has water. Otherwise, dig a hole that can fit a broken fridge.
You can alternatively make a food storage box. Put it in and cover it with hay. If you have time and resources, then you can give it a concrete top with an opening for access.
An alternative to building an underground storage unit is simply burying the food in the ground until such a time when you will need it.
This is only applicable to some foods, and it is crucial to avoid moisture getting to the buried food.
Root crops, cabbages, fruits, and meat can be buried or stored underground. The time it will take for the food to spoil depends on the store food and storage conditions.
Dry or frozen soil is preferred to extend the lifespan of any foods stored underground.
Make Root Cellars
Root cellars are the modern-day underground food storage solutions. A food cellar relies on the natural cooling, insulation, and humidification properties of the earth.
Most of the buildings constructed before the 1960s have root cellars.
Advantages of Root Cellars
Root cellars ensure a steady supply of fresh, homegrown vegetables. This might not be the case if you depended on grocery stores.
When a given vegetable is out of season, it would be unlimited or not available at all. Even the available ones become tasteless.
With a root cellar, you can store your vegetables for up to six months. This gives you peace of mind knowing that you can survive even hard times without relying on groceries stores.
Grow your own food and store them long-term for future use.
Root cellars are all-natural. You do not have to worry about electricity or propane gas to keep your food cold.
How Root Cellars Work
Root cellars work on the basic principle of inhibiting microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi from multiplying.
If properly constructed, root cellars should have a temperature of between 32º to 40ºF (0° to 4.5°C) and average humidity of about 90%.
Homegrown vegetables and other foods release ethylene gas which causes ripening and consequently rotting.
Also, microorganisms on the fruits and vegetables can multiply under the appropriate conditions to cause food spoilage. Low temperatures in a root cellar slow down these processes.
Also, the high humidity in a root cellar reduces moisture loss from the stored food. This makes the fruits and vegetables look fresh for quite a long time.
How To Build A Root Cellar
Building a root cellar is a DIY project you can complete on your own. There are seven basic steps you need to achieve it, and they are as listed below:
- Dig a sizable hole into the ground.
- Make a concrete floor, which will also be the foundation for the walls.
- Lay the blocks on the floor to form the wall.
- Build the foam for the roof. This should be arched to make it stronger.
- Assemble the foam and put it on the walls.
- Rebar and pour the roof slab.
- Finish the inside to your liking.
The steps look easy to follow, but you might need more information about building a root cellar.
Make An Ice Box or Ice House
An icebox can help you keep the food cold and preserve them for later use.
If you have perishable food that can go bad, then placing it in an ice-cold box will slow down the activities of microorganisms, making the food last longer.
How To Make an Ice Box More Effective
Block ice is preferred to cubes because it will last longer. Despite the faster freezing of food by the cubes, the 5-7 day lifespan of ice blocks makes them the best choice for long food storage.
Block ice will keep the box cold even when the outside temperature rises.
Put drinks and foods in the different iceboxes. The idea is to reduce the box opening and closing cycles.
You are likely to access the drinks more often than foods. By not opening the food compartment, cold air is preserved, and no warm air is introduced.
You also need to pre-chill the food you want to store in an icebox and fill it if you can. As mentioned earlier, filling the box will leave less room for convection.
The time your food will take in the icebox without spoiling depends on the food and conditions of the box itself.
How to Build an Ice Box
You can buy a pre-made icebox, or you can make it all by yourself. If you have chosen the DIY approach, then proceed with the following steps:
- Make a cardboard or take a plastic box and cover it with aluminum foil.
- Line the box with foam or fabric.
- Seal the icebox.
From the procedure given above, it is clear you will need the following items:
- Cardboard or Plastic Box
- Aluminum Foil
- Foam or Fabric
Make Clay Refrigerator (The Zeer Pot)
A Zeer pot is a primitive yet effective cooler for storing food without electricity. This method is still in use in different parts of the world because of its simple structure.
It mainly consists of two unglazed pots, one bigger than the other.
How To Use The Zeer Pot.
Put the smaller pot inside the larger one and fill the space in between them with sand. Put your food inside the smaller pot and pour water on the sand.
The inner pot will remain cold as the water evaporates through the surface of the outer one.
Unglazed pots are preferred because they get soaked with water, making the clay wet.
As the water on the surface of the outer pot absorbs latent heat of vaporization and escapes to the air, the sand and inner pot get cooler.
Covering the outer pot with a wet cloth speeds up the evaporation process.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Zeer Pot
You do not need electricity to keep the content cool. Therefore, vegetables and fruits can last longer than when they are stored at room temperature. Also, the Zeer pot is potable and keeps insects away.
You need to frequently check the stored food for signs of spoilage and to maintain the temperature.
The water should be added as necessary. This means you need to keep an eye on the dampness of the sand.
Build A Spring House
Spring houses are built over springs and wells. The water running keeps it cool even in hot summers.
The foods are put in the pots and collectively stored inside the spring house. The spring water is responsible for cooling the food cold without utility power.
Spring houses are durable but expensive to build. It requires resources, time, and skills. But once constructed, a spring house can last for decades.
Make An Evaporative Cooling
Evaporation is a natural method that nature uses to cool a body. When you feel hot, you sweat.
The sweat on the skin absorbs heat and evaporates, cooling your body. The same principle is applied in making an evaporative refrigerator.
The rate of evaporation depends on the weather conditions. It is best in dry areas with a breeze and low humidity.
Low humidity and breeze increase evaporation. Learn how to make an evaporative cooling box and store your food without electricity.
Use A Cool Stream Nearby (Running Water)
This is the time where your strategic location comes in handy. Make use of running water or a stream nearby to keep your food cold without a refrigerator. It is an effortless means of preserving perishable foods.
Running water is always cold. That is because of large surface air exposed to air that encourages evaporation.
You will realize how chilling running water is when you dip your hand or foot into it, even on a hot afternoon.
Put your food in a waterproof and airtight container, which cannot be accessed by fish and other aquatic animals.
Submerge the container and its content into the running water. This will keep your food cold and safe from damage by animals.
Tips to Refrigerate Without Electricity
The efficacy of refrigeration without electricity depends on many factors, including how you do it. To make your food last longer, use the following tips:
- For prepared food, always let it cool before putting it in your homemade fridge.
- For fresh foods, sort and pack them separately before placing them in your homemade fridge.
- Use a thermometer to monitor proper food safety temperature.
- Check your homemade refrigerators daily, but limit opening them constantly or leaving them open for too long.
Refrigeration keeps food fresh and safe for human consumption, unlike other methods that may change the taste and nutritional value of your foods. Fortunately, you can freeze foods without using electricity.
In this article, we provided different ways of refrigerating foods. You can use any method that suits your needs and is applicable in your location.
Also, remember to always follow the tips provided to make your food last longer.
As always, thank you for stopping by Em Offgrid to read this article. We hope that you have found the information useful. You can check our other posts on living off the grid.