Food storage and preservation have been essential for human survival throughout history. With modern-day reliance on refrigeration, many traditional methods of food storage have been overlooked.
However, there are numerous alternatives to refrigeration that are not only cost-effective but also promote sustainability and reduce the dependency on electricity. Here are explore six ways to store food without a refrigerator, detailing each method and the associated costs or setup involved, that can be done in advance for prepping, or done in the event of a long term loss of electricty.
A root cellar is an underground storage area used to keep food at a constant cool temperature without using electricity.
In simple terms, to set up a root cellar, you will need to dig a hole in the ground, preferably in a shaded area, and build a structure that insulates the space from extreme temperature fluctuations. The cost of setting up a root cellar varies depending on the size and materials used, but it can range from $500 to several thousand dollars.
Canning is probably the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when it comes to preserving food for long term storage or when there is no electricity. Canning is the process of preserving food in airtight containers, typically glass jars, by heating the food to kill bacteria and vacuum-sealing the jars to prevent recontamination. The initial cost of a canning setup includes purchasing a canner, jars, lids, and a jar lifter, which can range from $50 to $200. The ongoing cost includes new lids and possibly jars.
While most people think of canning things like salsa or pickles, you can can a much larger variety of food, including meat, if you are also able to expand to a pressure canner as well.
Drying / Dehydrator
Drying food involves removing moisture to prevent bacterial growth. You can air-dry foods like herbs and some fruits, although many will find it much easier use a food dehydrator for more consistent results with a wider variety of food types. The cost of a dehydrator ranges from $50 to $300, depending on the size and features. There are no ongoing costs unless you need to replace trays or parts.
Fermentation, which is often overlooked by those who are doing food storage for emergencies, is the process of preserving food through the controlled growth of beneficial bacteria. Common fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. To ferment foods, you’ll need airtight jars or containers and weights to keep food submerged in liquid. The initial cost for fermentation supplies can be as low as $20, with minimal ongoing costs for new containers or weights.
This is one of the oldest and easiest methods of preserving, which is why it was so popular during pioneer and exploration eras. Salt curing involves preserving food, usually meat or fish, by covering it with a layer of salt or a salt-based curing mixture. The salt draws out moisture and inhibits bacterial growth. The cost of salt curing is relatively low, as you’ll only need to purchase the salt or curing mixture, which can range from $5 to $20 depending on the quantity and type of salt used.
Smoking is another method for preserving food, particularly meats and fish. It involves exposing food to smoke from burning wood or other materials, which imparts flavor and helps to preserve the food by removing moisture and inhibiting bacterial growth. A basic smoker can be purchased for around $100 to $300, or you can build a DIY smoker for less. The ongoing cost includes wood or other smoking materials.
Because smoking is seen as trendy right now, it is an easy thing to add to your property as part of your preps, without it being obvious to others that is what you are doing.
Cold water storage, such as a spring
If you are fortunate enough to have a cold water spring on your property, or the weather is cool enough, your local water source on your property might be an option.
With this option, you will need to ensure that the food is both completely sealed, to prevent any bacteria from the water seeping into the packaging, as well as animal proof, to prevent any wild animals from taking your food. Some have solved this by building a springhouse to keep animals out, or building a cage-like structure to store food inside while protecting it from animals.
These are seven of the most common ways to store food without relying on a refrigerator, from traditional methods such as root cellars and canning to time-honored techniques like fermenting and smoking. These alternatives offer a diverse range of options for preserving foods, each with its own unique benefits and flavors.
By understanding and embracing these methods, you can reduce your energy consumption, lower food waste, and even discover new culinary adventures – as well as being prepared in an emergency situation where electricity for a refrigerator is either not available, or only available as a limited option, such as with a generator. As you explore these options, consider which method or combination of methods best suits your needs, budget, and lifestyle, and enjoy the satisfaction of preserving your own food.