If the emergency situation last only several hours before the utility company gets the power back on, just leave the fridge and freezer shut and things will stay cold enough to prevent the food from spoiling. But if the emergency lasts more than a day (as happens in the aftermath of a hurricane, tornado, ice storm, earthquake, etc.) you're going to need to take some steps to save the food from spoilage.
- If your problem is caused by an ice storm that has torn down the power lines, you can probably move the food outside or use the ambient temperature to keep the food cold enough for safe keeping in your garage. But during warm weather, you'll need to use other strategies.
- Move perishable foods from the refrigerator to the freezer to prolong exposure to cold conditions. A chest freezer is far better than one with a door on the front, but use whatever you have.
- You can help preserve the cold in a freezer by having blocks of ice inside that will keep the interior cold even after the power has shut down. We use 1-gallon water containers, filled about 3/4-full (to allow for expansion during freezing) to make contained blocks of ice, and we keep these in our freezer all the time.
- With an upright fridge or freezer, every time you open the door the cold air spills out as if it were water. So keep the door closed as much as possible.
- If you have a chest freezer, the cold air will stay inside when the lid is lifted, just like water would stay in a tub. But that doesn't give you license to be opening the freezer lid more than necessary. Some warm air will invade every time the lid is lifted.
If you simply can't keep the fridge or freezer cold, you're going to have to find ways to preserve the food as it warms up.
- Cook raw meats, poultry and fish and eat them.
- Consume diary products. However, you can immerse hard cheese in olive oil as a preservative method.
- Use "green bags" (they absorb the ethylene gas that promotes ripening) to keep raw fruits and vegetables fresh longer (www.greenbags.com)
- Boil eggs to preserve them for about a week.
- If you have an abundance of raw eggs, cover them with a thin coating of lard or shortening and bury them in a bed of salt. This will keep eggs for months.
- Alternate cool storage might be found in the crawl space beneath your house.
- An evaporative cooler box can be constructed by building a framework over which you can drape burlap or other material that you keep wet. The evaporation process lowers the temperature inside the enclosure, but it will not match the safe 40-degree F. temperature of a refrigerator. Evaporative cooling works best in a hot, dry climate.
After you have consumed the perishable foods from your disabled refrigerator and freezer, prepare food only in sufficient quantity to be eaten in the next meal, so you won't have left-overs to worry about.