Keeping your refrigerated food cold after losing power is a real challenge that most of us prefer not to
face. After a power outage, your first seconds and minutes are usually consumed with hopeful thoughts
about the power being restored quickly. As time marches on without restoration, these thoughts
gradually transform into a stark realization that hundreds of dollars’ worth of your refrigerated and
frozen food are at stake. Of course Murphy’s Law is in full force as you just went food shopping the day
before and your refrigerator contains expensive and perishable foods that are ready to melt like an ice
cream cone on a hot summer day.
Pre-pack your refrigerator with dense/heavy foods & liquids
In terms of a physics class technical explanation, you will be best prepared if prior to the power outage,
you have maintained significant pre-cooled thermal mass inside your refrigerator. Ok, that was a bit
over the top. Translation in layman’s terms is that your refrigerator (both the refrigerator and freezer
sections) has already been packed with many dense/heavy foods and liquids and thus will be more
resistant to quickly warming up. Examples include large containers of water or juice, a large frozen
turkey, and bags of fruit (like apples and oranges). All of this will help but will not be an adequate
multiple day solution to keeping things sufficiently cold even when limiting how often you open up the
Block Ice – The Best Solution
Ice, or course, is the best solution, and lots of it. Essentially you need to “ice” both the refrigerator and
freezer sections of your refrigerator. When ice melts it’s actually absorbing a significant amount of heat
from its surroundings and that’s why it works so well. Block ice, a large solid mass of ice that is typically
made in a rectangular shape, is better than using bags of cube ice in terms of its ability to deliver cooling
power for an extended period of time. Traditional smaller size ice cubes work but because of their
larger surface area, they melt much faster. The holy grail of keeping your refrigerator cold for many
days is obtaining block ice from a local ice distributor or creating blocks of ice in your freezer section
ahead of the power outage.
Some people use dry ice which has superior cooling properties compared to water ice, but it’s usually
not readily obtainable and requires special handling (gloves) and storing precautions. Because when it
“melts”, it releases carbon dioxide, it presents a suffocation danger and requires adequate ventilation.
It should never be placed in a refrigerator or freezer.
“Ice” your Refrigerator
Power outages can be forecast to some degree based on upcoming events like impending snow and ice
storms, thunderstorms, high wind conditions, and hurricanes. If extreme weather is forecasted, it’s
prudent to fill multiple containers (empty plastic gallon milk jugs are an excellent choice) with water and
placing them in your refrigerator and freezer sections a day or two before the storm so they cool down
or freeze. Remember that water expands about 10% when it freezes to become ice, so slightly under-fill
your containers to be frozen. Freeze as many water containers as you can fit it your freezer. When the
power outage hits, move a couple of ice blocks into the refrigerator section and leave the remaining
ones in your freezer. Always storing a few gallons of water in your refrigerator and the same in your
freezer (but obviously in ice form) is prudent planning as many times power outages can’t be predicted.
Of course all of this would not be necessary if you have a back-up generator that’s able to keep your
refrigerator up and running. See “My Home Power Outage Preparedness Story” for some back-up power
Follow these refrigerator pre-packing and ice making tips to stretch the time your refrigerator will stay
cold during an extended power outage. It’s all about taking some simple steps, especially in advance of
any severe weather that’s forecasted.