The first capacity I introduced in my eBook is that you must keep perishable foods viable for at least a few days. In it I state that:
“You must keep perishable foods viable for at least a few days via temporary means such as a cooler and ice (up to a week is better). In fact, something like the Koolatron Cooler would be ideal for increasing your ability to do just this because it plugs into a standard 12-volt vehicle auxiliary outlet; then store enough gasoline to keep you vehicles running (even idling) and you’ll be in better shape than most people. Additionally, you should know what foods would need to be consumed first and when refrigerated foods become potentially unsafe. You should also consider how you can use the winter cold to your advantage (such as by building a root cellar) and how to minimize the spoiling effects of summer heat. The book Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables is a very good reference I’ve used to build my own root cellar.”
The purpose of being able to keep your perishable foods viable is more than just the obvious of having food to eat; it’s also meant to buy you time to decide how you will react to the situation rather than unnecessary panic during an emergency situation. 24 hours after your power goes out and you realize it may not be returning, you can enact your plans to keep such foods viable and react accordingly.
So, where to start?
If I were re-writing my eBook, I probably would have led off this capacity with an understanding of which foods will become unsafe for consumption. You can reference a few PDF files here that detail this information, so I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say that meat and dairy are your biggest culprits. You might also understand which foods are probably ok to be left at room temperature such as some condiments (ketchup comes to mind) so that valuable cooler space is not used unnecessarily.
Continue to Use Your Refrigerator First
Certainly, you’ll want to continue to use your refrigerator as long as possible. Basic suggestions such as keeping the refrigerator and freezer doors closed are obvious. As time goes on you’ll need to provide an external cooling source such as ice. If you happen to have a second refrigerator or chest freezer, one option I would start with is using already frozen 2-liter bottles of water. Simply store a dozen or so bottles in your alternate freezer for just such an occasion and place them in your refrigerator as needed.
Other simple ideas would include attempting to insulate your refrigerator using old blankets and comforters, although I’m not sure how effective (or easy) that would be.
I would also want to know what the temperature is inside my refrigerator and freezer. A simple idea for deciding whether your freezer foods are good is to place a few ice cubes in a plastic bag and keep them in your freezer. If they’ve melted then your freezer foods should be suspect and probably used up quickly or tossed out. For your refrigerator, a basic outdoor thermometer would suffice, however, this would require you to open the door to check it. Another idea is to use a wireless thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature without opening the door and losing precious cooling.
When Your Refrigerator Is Useless
Assuming that after a day or two without power your refrigerator will become increasingly useless. Now you need to move on to alternative sources and that means coolers. Certainly a basic cooler and ice will work for a short period of time, but that depends on whether you have access to ice. A better option would be the Koolatron Cooler. It is a cooler that works on 12-volt vehicle systems. So long as you have gasoline in your gas tank then you can run this cooler to keep your foods fresh.
If you live in a relative dry climate then you might consider an idea called the pot-in-pot refrigerator. The concept uses evaporation principles in order to draw heat from the foods inside to the outside. Of course, you won’t be freezing rib-eye steaks in one of these, but you may be able to extend the life of a few foods. And, if you multiply this concept several times over then you may have something going.
If you had the foresight to build a root cellar for general food storage then that might be an option. The book I reference, Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables is a very good reference that I own and suggest you do as well if you have any interest in building a root cellar. I found it quite useful when I build mine.
Last Ditch Ideas
Another idea would be to bury your food. People have been doing this seemingly forever and still do it today. If you get deep enough (below the frost line) then your food should stay at a fairly stable temperature in the mid to upper 50′s. Search YouTube for ideas.
You could also attempt to preserve your foods by smoking, jerking, or drying. However, I would think you would rather do this well before an emergency situation unless, of course, you are already accustomed to performing these preservation techniques.
The last, albeit inevitable idea, is to have a big feast and eat everything that will perish. Can you say block party?