Why would anyone want to live without a fridge? This is a valid question especially when 99.8% of Americans own fridges according to government data made available in 2018.
However, millions of people in Africa and Asia are forced to live without fridges either because there is no power available to their communities, or they simply cannot afford the initial cost of the appliance as well as the daily running costs in terms of electricity.
While most American homes have fridges (around 23% have more than one fridge, with 14% of the electricity used in the US attributed to fridges), the household appliance that we have come to rely on perhaps isn’t as essential as it seems if people were to change how they store food.
There are times when being without a fridge is not a matter of choice. The most obvious situation is an extended power outage due to a significant weather event.
Were there to be a SHTF situation where there are prolonged periods of electrical outages it is good to know how to make a plan to keep items cool, what to buy and what sort of containers or structures you can use as an alternative to a fridge to keep goods cool.
You could also choose to voluntarily live without the conventional fridge.
Choosing to Live Without a Fridge
Why would anyone make this choice? The reasons vary from concern over the large amount of power used to simple finances.
- Some people cannot afford to buy another fridge if theirs breaks
- Some people have a fridge but cannot afford to run it any longer as electrical bills skyrocket
- Some people want to be independent of power companies and live off grid
- Fridges suck up plenty of electricity and some people feel they need to live greener to help save the planet.
- Some people live in a tight space or a vehicle, where there is just no room for a fridge
Finally, if you are preparing for life post-collapse, then you will be planning to live with far fewer modern conveniences, including a fridge.
Live Like Country Folk in the City
The first thing you need to know is that far fewer food items need refrigeration than you might think.
Many country folks know how to live this way, frugally, with fewer needs and extravagances, but never left hungry or feeling deprived. Let’s go through the various food types and their refrigeration needs.
Various Food Types and Their Refrigeration Needs
Basically, the shelf-life of produce that has been refrigerated is reduced by 50% compared to fresh produce that has never been in a fridge.
It is difficult to get unrefrigerated produce at the local grocery store, but if you buy from farmers markets or direct from farmers, you shouldn’t have a problem.
When purchasing fruit that will be stored without refrigeration, it is critical that you get fruit that has never been refrigerated. Once any produce has been refrigerated once, it will quickly go bad if it is not kept refrigerated.
Try to shop direct from farmer’s markets where the produce has come form the fields to the stall. In it not necessary to keep fruit in a fridge, but some types of fruit have a shorter shelf-life than others.
The average shelf life of fruit without refrigeration:
- Apples and citrus fruit: 4-5 weeks
- Pineapples: 2 weeks
- Avocado, mango, and pears: 10 days to 2 weeks
- Bananas: 7-10 days
- Papaya and melons: 7 days
- Berries and other fruit: less than 7 days
Keep in mind that grapes will store for a decent amount of time if their stems are submerged in wet sand.
Herbs and Vegetables
Herbs and vegetables can also be kept nicely without refrigeration, but as with fruit, purchase produce that has never been refrigerated.
Also, all produce (including fruit) should be stored unwashed and it should be chosen very carefully to avoid any that is bruised, rotten, or overripe or that just looks old.
Here is advice on length of time to store some common vegetables and herbs:
- Potatoes and onions: 1-2 months (don’t store together as the onions will encourage the potatoes to sprout; remove potato eyes as they appear)
- Pumpkin and butternut will keep for 2 to 3 months
- Cabbage, garlic, and winter squash: 1 month (wrap cabbage in a towel or newspaper)
- Turnips, beets, tomatoes: 3-4 weeks (buy green tomatoes and wrap individually in paper towel)
- Carrots, zucchini, green peppers: 2 weeks (remove tops of carrots and peel and soak in water if they turn rubbery)
- Eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli: 1 week
- All other vegetables: less than 1 week
Keep in mind that lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs (basically anything with a stem) will store incredibly well if the end of the stem is placed in water (just the tip of the stem should be submerged).
This can be attractive in the kitchen if you have bunches of coriander or rosemary stored in this way.
Dan’s note: another good way of preserving fruit and veggies is to use wood ash. Dig a hole in the ground, fill it with ash and put them inside, making sure they don’t touch each other or the soil. Cover the hole with a wooden board.
Eggs, particularly farm-fresh eggs, can keep for at least a week on the counter. Just buy what you need for the week and replenish every week and you’ll be fine.
Better yet, keep your own egg-laying chickens if you are able to. You can also pickle eggs to make them last longer.
If you need to keep eggs longer or have bought eggs that have already been refrigerated, then turn them every day to prevent the air sac inside the egg from settling against one part of the shell for a prolonged period of time.
Many of the condiments we have come to love will keep just fine for many months without refrigeration.
This includes peanut butter (even all-natural), catsup, relish, mustard, and mayonnaise. Other spreads, such as jams, jellies, maple syrup, and molasses will keep for 2-4 weeks.
Honey has an indefinite shelf-life. It will never go bad, but it will crystalize, however this can be sorted out by reheating the honey gently.
Not all dairy products are equal. Milk is the difficult one, so let’s cover other products first:
- Butter: Butter will keep just fine on the counter for at least 2 weeks and as many as 4 weeks if it is in a cool place. You can also buy canned butter, which tastes just as good as regular butter, but has a longer shelf-life.
- Yogurt: Even commercially bought yogurt keeps for a number of weeks provided it is unopened. It’s best to get smaller sizes, or if you have a larger size, then eat it up within a day or two.
- Cheese: Hard cheeses that are coated in wax or vacuum-sealed will keep indefinitely without refrigeration. Semi-soft cheese will keep well if sealed, but will soften. If you have unpackaged cheese, then coat it in vinegar, wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it in a plastic bag.
Milk is an entirely different issue when it comes to living without a fridge. You’re just not going to get milk to last for more than 6 hours without refrigeration. The solutions are:
- Get your own milking cow or goat
- Buy your milk fresh every day
- Use powdered milk
- Use ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk, which has been heated to very high temperatures and can store unopened for 2-6 months
Fresh meat is the other difficult culprit when it comes to living without refrigeration. Fresh meat will just not keep for a long time, so here are your options:
- Buy fresh every day that you want to eat meat and cook it right away
- Buy dried and/or canned meat
- Can and dry your own meat
- Go without meat or cut your consumption
- Work with your community to share the meat when an animal is slaughtered, as they do in Asian and African countries
If you buy your meat from the butcher, and it is frozen and vacuum-sealed, then it will keep in a freezer bag or cooler for up to a week.
Can you preserve it without a fridge? Definitely. In fact, there are two methods to use: smoking and curing. I’ll leave the videos below tell you more about them:
Alternatives to a Fridge
There are alternatives to using an electric fridge that mean you don’t have to go completely without some sort of cold storage.
Learn all about how solar powered fridges work – you can convert your current fridge to solar power. This article explains how it’s done. It is also possible to run a gas fridge.
But if these seem like simply living with a fridge but only changing the source of power, there are other alternatives to refrigeration:
Use a portion of your basement to construct a cold storage room
We are always advised to store food in a cool dark place – simply because it keeps it fresher longer. The basement is an ideal spot within your home to build a cold storage area – watch this video to see how it’s done:
Construct a root cellar
Traditionally constructed underground, or partially underground root cellars stored mainly root crops through the winter, hence their name but you can store a wide variety of produce in the cooler temeperatures of a root cellar.
In fact a root cellar doesn’t necessarily have to be underground either. Watch this video to find out more about constructing a root cellar:
They have been popular for centuries as winter storage but can be adapted by preppers to provide an alternative to refrigeration.
In countries like Mozambique people dig down below the earth floor of their homes to construct dark pits where they keep produce and beverages cool, away from the blazing heat of the subtropical sun.
Watch this video to see how it’s done in the Central African Republic:
5-gallon bucket coolers
Large 5-gallon buckets (get used ones from a wine or grocery store) and place them in a hole in your yard; if the bucket has a lid and the food is under ground, it will stay cooler.
A cooler or cooler bag
It’s always best to start off with the food you want to store already pre-chilled – so get it straight from the grocery store into a cooler bag that has ice in it – a large chunk of ice will last a lot longer than buying packets of ice cubes.
A zeer or pot-in-pot refrigerator consisting of one smaller clay or terracotta pot inside a larger pot and separated by a barrier of wet sand has been used in Egypt and North Africa since antiquity.
It uses the principle of evaporative cooling to keep the produce inside the inner clay pot cool. You can see how to make one here:
Shaded balcony or outdoor area
The great outdoors, such as a back yard or balcony, is obviously only an option for people who live in colder climates.
Particularly in Britain it was something of a joke about keeping the milk on a shaded window ledge – but if you don’t have a fridge it’s a sensible place to keep it – the interiors of the homes have central heating but it stays pretty cool outside.
Evaporative cooling cupboards
In hot dry climates a cooling cupboard placed outside on the side of the house that gets shadow all day, will keep stuff cool.
It is usually made from wood for the frame with double layer chicken wire sides and front set around 10 cm apart so that charcoal lumps can be placed in between the two layers.
Water is arranged to drip onto the charcoal layers and the breeze blowing through keeps the inside cool. Wet sacks can also be laid loose over the sides instead of using charcoal wire trays inside allow air circulation and gauze on the sides and front to keep flies out.
The ancient Egyptians used the same principle with wet reed mats to provide evaporative cooling.
Residents living in hot climates with low humidity levels can benefit tremendously from a swamp cooler.
As an alternative to a traditional air conditioning system, a swamp cooler uses a more refined concept of the simple, low-technology process of evaporation to provide cooling comfort.
Moreover, swamp coolers are extremely energy efficient and can cost-effectively lower an area’s ambient temperature by several degrees.
How a swamp cooler works
The evaporation process is simple: when water evaporates, a large amount of heat from surroundings is absorbed. This is easily observed when you splash water onto your skin on a hot day, as this results in a cooling – almost chilling – sensation because of the rapid evaporation of moisture on the skin.
With that said, swamp coolers aren’t recent inventions. Swamp coolers have been used since antiquity, and civilizations throughout the ages have ingeniously utilized the power of evaporation to keep cool in hot regions.
The ancient Egyptians discovered that hot, dry breezes became moist and cool when blown through moist mats or past clay pots full of water, while the Ancient Greeks and Romans also used this principle of evaporation to quell hot temperatures.
Although modern-day swamp coolers are a bit more complicated than water soaked mats, the cooling method retains the same principle. Swamp coolers utilize a combination of simple technology and electric power to create cold airflow.
A large box with a fan is surrounded by wet pads, while a pump continuously circulates water to keep these pads wet. Thus, a swamp cooler both cools the air and makes it more pleasant by adding moisture.
Moreover, unlike air conditioners, which circulate air over and over, swamp coolers constantly bring in fresh air from outside.
Don’t Leave Yourself Dependent on Grocery Stores
A final note about living without refrigeration. When it comes to being prepared for any scenario that might befall the human race or even just your family unit, it is wise to have enough food stocked up for at least a few weeks.
If you don’t have a fridge, then be sure you have enough non-perishable food to last your family should something happen that prevents you from getting food from a grocery store or another source for an extended period of time.
After all, prepping for life without refrigeration is only part of the process – we certainly need to stockpile enough food to last if SHTF.
This is where drying meat comes in as dried meat– like pemmican, jerky, and South African biltong can last for years without refrigeration if stored in vacuum sealed bags and kept away from moisture.
The other alternative is to can meat or buy canned meat products.
Ready to Live Fridge-Free?
Having a fridge is perhaps the epitome of our privileged, gluttonous North American lifestyle.
In many countries around the world, people live without the convenience of a fridge and they manage just fine. Will you have to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a lack of refrigeration? You bet!
There might not be a cold drink waiting for you after you finish work, but you’ll get used to that. You will also only be able to cook smaller meals that won’t result in leftovers, but you will be eating fresher food, smaller portions, and less junk (like ice cream).
This means you will be living a healthier lifestyle and be more motivated to reduce the amount of food you waste.
Hey, you can always try it for a month and see what you think. Your fridge will be standing there if you decide you really can’t live without it.
updated 09/04/2019 by Jeanie Beales
An urban prepper and rural wannabe, Karen has been working as a freelance writer for a decade and prepping for about half that time. She has gathered a wealth of knowledge on preparing for SHTF, but there is always more to learn and she has a passion for gathering and sharing that knowledge with other like-minded folk. Karen lives in London, Canada with her two children and plethora of cats.