It seems like everybody has been there before. Your power goes out and your freezer is losing its cold by the minute. Maybe your freezer dies, and you have to rush to buy another one before you lose your food. As everything in your freezer starts to thaw, you start cooking up the expensive cuts of meat, so they do not go to waste.
You may get lucky and get the situation resolved soon enough that you save all of your food. However, there is a good chance that you will lose at least some of it. There goes all your hard-earned money in the trash can.
So, what happens in a natural disaster in which your power goes out for weeks or even months? In this article, we will cover the different ways that you can save as much of your frozen food as possible.
Immediate Solution – Generator
Most people do not think about it until it is too late, but a generator is the easiest way to keep your food frozen. It is suggested in a long-term power outage that a generator be used for only the most important electrical items. This includes the lights and any needed appliances including freezers.
Of course, the best course of action is to buy a generator long before the power actually goes out. If the power outage covers a large area, generators could sell out quickly in box stores and hardware stores. The cheapest ones will go first, so you may get stuck spending thousands of dollars.
If you do wait until the power goes out to buy a generator, get to the store as quickly as possible. Try to think of stores that other people would not consider. Finally, be sure you get plenty of fuel to keep the generator running as needed.
As an example of the urgency of this situation, Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the East coast as I write this article. My sister and her whole family live in northern South Carolina and will likely be affected by the hurricane. It will not hit their area until Friday night, but by Monday of this week every store in the area was sold out of generators. They could not believe it, but I could have told them that would happen.
If you know well in advance that a natural disaster is coming, get prepared as quickly as possible.
Managing the Cold
One of the biggest mistakes that people make in a power outage is opening the freezer too often. Once the power is down and the compressor stops working, the cold in your freezer is all you have. Freezers are insulated very well as long as they are kept closed. However, every time you open your freezer you let that precious cold air escape into your home.
If you are going to open your freezer, have a plan to do it quickly. Draw out a diagram of where you think each item is located and know which items you need to remove before you open the door. Be sure you plan to remove anything you will need in the next few days. Then when you do open the door, grab what you need quickly and get it closed again.
Consolidate Multiple Freezers
If you are like me and my family, you have more than one freezer. We actually have three to hold all of the game meat we get from hunting and fishing. However, only one of the three freezers are completely full. Two of them are only about half way full. Frozen foods will stay frozen longer if they are stored with other frozen foods. Think about ice cubes. A single ice cube placed on your counter will melt very quickly. However, a bag of ice cubes will last much longer. The cold from one frozen item will help cool other frozen items.
If you have multiple freezers, your best bet is to load everything you can into the largest freezer. You should also prioritize the items that will stay frozen the longest. This includes meats and vegetables, not breads or boxed foods. The more water present in the food item, the longer it will stay frozen.
At some point, your freezer will lose enough of its cold air that foods will start to thaw. When you get to this point, it is time to abandon ship. Your best bet at this point is to move your frozen foods to a cooler with ice.
I always keep a huge cooler on hand for scenarios like this. Mine is about two feet deep and four feet long. Between this cooler and two others that we have, we could store pretty much all of the food in our freezers.
Be aware that coolers will be another item that will fly off the shelves in a widespread power outage. Your best bet is to purchase one before the power goes out. However, if you do wait until the power is out you need to get one as quickly as possible. Thankfully, most people will not buy the huge coolers like the one I described.
Ice will also be at a premium, so get as many bags of ice as will fit in your coolers. Keep the ice inside the bag versus dumping it on the food. This will keep your food dry and will keep the ice frozen longer.
Use the Weather
One of the most common scenarios for a power outage is a winter storm. Ice builds up on power lines and they snap from the weight. If this is the case, you can use the weather to your advantage.
When foods start to thaw, the roads will likely be too dangerous for driving. Instead, move your foods outside. As long as the air temperature is less than 32F, your foods should stay frozen. Just be sure that you put your food in a shady area. Direct sunlight can thaw your food even in cold weather. Also, keep an eye on everything. Animals could get into your food if you’re not watching.
Start Cooking, Canning, or Drying
As an absolute last resort, you can save at least some of your foods. In order to do this, you have to think back to how people preserved food before we had freezers. Most fruits, vegetables and meats can be canned if you have the supplies. This process takes some time, so get started as soon as the foods are fully thawed.
Prioritize meats as they will spoil sooner. Most fruits, vegetables and meats can also be dried and turned into jerky. Again, this process takes some time so get started as soon as everything thaws.
Another option is to build a zeer pot. This is comprised of one clay pot inside another clay pot with a layer of wet sand in between the two. As the water evaporates, it cools the inner pot and the food inside it. However, this only works as a refrigerator and not a freezer.
Finally, if you have no other options, you can cook and eat as much of the food as possible. Fatty foods like bacon will last longer, so focus on lean cuts of meat and fish first. Remember, these options are a last resort. If you go this route, you will likely still lose some of the food.
A power outage is never a fun venture. However, you can keep your foods frozen if you act appropriately.
By far your best option is to be prepared before the power ever goes out. Buy your generator and your coolers in advance. Talk with your family and have a plan of action. Keep your freezers organized so you know exactly where everything is.
Then when the power goes out, take action to shore up your plan with anything you might need. This includes fuel for your generator or bags of ice for your cooler.
If you take the time to prepare for a power outage, you will not lose any of your food.
This article was originally published in Survival Dispatch Insider magazine Volume 2 Issue 10.
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