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Keeping the Freezer cold in a Power Outage

November 2nd, 2012

With all of the talk of electric outages, I’ve been thinking I should share what we do to help keep our freezers running more efficiently and help them keep food frozen longer during power outages. My mom has been doing this for many years and it’s something I’ve been doing as well. It’s so easy you’ll wonder why it’s not more common knowledge.

A half empty freezer like this one is not as efficient as a full one. It will also thaw out much faster when the power is out. Keeping your freezer running more efficiently and helping it stay colder longer is as simple as filling the empty spaces with containers of water to freeze as big blocks of ice. I use plastic milk jugs, my mom always used large square gallon freezing containers. I’ve been considering buying a few of these large plastic rectangular containers because they’d fit more efficiently in my freezer, but gallon jugs are FREE. A few years ago we received our dry month milk from the farm frozen for winter use, so my freezer was always full of milk instead of water. Each fall we also also purchase 8-10 reserve gallons of apple cider and freeze it as well. During these times we don’t need the jugs of water.

When we moved to Maine, I emptied all the containers and recycled them. I’m slowly building back up my stash of frozen ice with apple cider jugs. It’s a good thing Mr Chiots loves cider so it’s going rather quickly!

Essentially, this turns your freezer into a cooler when there’s no power. If you have enough of these in your freezer you could also move some to your fridge to keep the contents colder during a power outage. These containers of ice also come in handy for traveling. I always throw a few frozen half gallon jugs in my cooler. They keep things colder for much longer than loose ice and they don’t allow the water to get your food soggy when they do.

When you need to add food to your freezer, you can simply take out a few jugs of frozen water and set them beside the freezer. When you take out food and have space, put them back in. Another handy benefit is that this water could also be used as emergency water in a pinch. You might want to refresh it occasionally if you want to use it in this way.

Any great tips to share for those times when the electric is off?

A few more freezer/freezing posts:
Freezing in Glass Canning Jars
Keeping Your Freezer Organized

18 Comments to “Keeping the Freezer cold in a Power Outage”
  1. Maybelline on November 2, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Enjoy being unplugged.

    Reply to Maybelline's comment

  2. Marina C on November 2, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Here in Southern NH, we were spared from power outages, good thing, since this year we have 2 lamb, a CSA goat and 1/4 pig put away, and it’s too early in the winter to invite everybody over to eat it all… Plus, every body in the village would have had a winter supply to eat up!
    Time for a generator, since it seems this is the kind of weather we will see more of.
    Would you like me to send you some crosnes? I think they would travel fine. I replant one per square foot now, and keep a bag of 12 till the spring in the fridge for insurance, by then they have fine hairy roots all over like old carrots do! E-mail me if you do want some.

    Reply to Marina C's comment

  3. jennifer fisk on November 2, 2012 at 7:29 am

    This summer, I had bags of frozen ground chicken for the dogs frozen into the bottom of my small chest freezer. I couldn’t dislodge them even with boiling water. I unplugged the freezer and left to top open in August. It took 5 days before I was able to pull those bags out and they were still frozen inside. So, I will never worry about the goods in my freezer regardless of the length of a power outage.
    I do keep many gallon jugs of water available for flushing during a power outage as well as some jugs for drinking. With a gas and wood stove life goes on quite well.

    Reply to jennifer fisk's comment

  4. Tara on November 2, 2012 at 8:59 am

    If you are not worried about drinking the water once it’s defrosted; you can add some salt to the water to lower the freezing point of the water and make colder ice. It’ll last for longer, and be colder too. Probably 2-3 tablespoons of salt would be fine; but I haven’t tried it myself so I’m not sure.

    Reply to Tara's comment

    • Susy on November 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Interesting idea, I’ll have to try that to see how it works.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  5. Deb on November 2, 2012 at 9:02 am

    You should always be concerned that your food stays cold enough in your freezer. I have a chest freezer and would never leave it open 5 days or the stuff in the bottom would be a gross slimy mess. (Per lady’s post. In August it would never last no matter the age of the freezer. I know quite well. Best thing to do is have a generator and some gas on hand. Even during an ice storm years ago, no power for over 6 days, and rarely opemning it we still ran them till they shut off. That’s in an unheated back porch in NW central Ohio. If they kicked on they weren’t down close to 0* as suggested for long term storage. It usually took a short time but keeping food that cold is absolute for safety and long term storage. We have a wood stove for heat and propane stove that requires no electric so we are OK with a generator when the power is out for extended time periods. My 2 are full so I don’t have to put in frozen jugs but that is the best way or get a smaller deep freeze if you have to do this frequently. Good post.

    Reply to Deb's comment

    • jennifer fisk on November 3, 2012 at 7:56 am

      All that was in the freezer were the 4 5#bags of ground chicken frozen to each other and the sidewalls of the freezer. It honestly took 5 days before I was able to finally move them and they were still frozen about an inch in.

      Reply to jennifer fisk's comment

  6. whit on November 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Thank you for this timely post. We have two freezers we use. I’ve tried to keep the grain products (bread, pasta, grains for animals) separate from the meats and cheeses we freeze. We keep much less in the meat freezer, as it is a regular household fridge/freezer combo we purchased a couple years ago. Figuring if we did need to run a generator for it to keep meats from thawing, a more efficient fridge would use less power. I’m going to try this freezing water method to fill it up. Or maybe i could use the frozen n applesauce in canning jars to fill the space. That way if a meat does thaw and juice out a little, the contents in the jar would still be good.

    Thanks for getting me thinking this morning, Susy.

    Reply to whit's comment

    • Susy on November 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      We just got another freezer too. As I keep a lot of grains in the freezer it’s a great idea to keep them separate. I’ll have to do that. That way one freezer has all the important unthawable items in it and other has the grain, which doesn’t really matter too much if it’s not frozen.

      We’ve had our electric off for a few days before and our freezer kept things frozen solid during that time because it was full of frozen jugs of milk and cider at the time.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • whit on November 3, 2012 at 5:42 am

        Do you think ziploc bags would work too? I always have some not too soiled ones around that i’d like to reuse. Wondering that because they would fit better in my freezer drawers. Hmmmmm…..

        to whit's comment

  7. KimH on November 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

    The jugs of water are a great idea and one my parents have always done. My freezer hasnt been anywhere close to empty in such a long time, its not something I do at the moment. ;)

    We did buy a generator a few days before Sandy’s front winds hit us here in Ohio, so our freezer never lost a lick longer than 10 minutes. The elect was out for about 16 hours but my freezer would have been fine with it or without it.. but either way, I was awfully glad to have it.

    Reply to KimH's comment

    • Susy on November 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Our parents are smart! Usually our freezer was stuffed to the brim, but my mom would fill the empty spaces with ice when we started eating the frozen fruits/veggies in the winter.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  8. John on November 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I learned quite a few tips and tricks on Steven Harris’s 9th appearance on The Survival Podcast. Check out for the podcast.

    Reply to John's comment

    • Susy on November 2, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      I’ll have to see if Mr Chiots has heard of this podcast, as he’s a big fan of listening to things like this and it sounds like something he’d love to listen to.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. Issa Waters on November 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    When planning for various disasters around here, I realized that if I lost power for several days and lost my freezer full of my homegrown pork I would cry, cry, cry. So I bought a generator. Even with an entire freezer packed full of pork (no room for jugs of ice), it doesn’t take long for the stuff on top to start thawing. Now, anytime the power goes out and doesn’t immediately flicker back on we immediately start up the genny and get things plugged in. It’s strange in the silence of a power outage to hear the loud generator rumble. It’s nice to be able to plug in a light or two, too!

    Reply to Issa Waters's comment

  10. Tammey on November 2, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    BRILLIANT! Thank you so much! I love learning something new!

    Reply to Tammey's comment

  11. Norma on November 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Yes, this was something my old mother taught me and have always done, it’s great to have that spare water and I always keep a few bottles in fridge. I have also learnt a full freezer is not always such an asset. Came home from a 10 day holiday to a putrid mess! Not nice. So, I reflected to the old times of my parents in the Aussie outback. Well, tin, canned and dehydrated food were the go. I always keep a large tin of powdered mild( I know it tastes funny), but you get used to the taste and it’s all I drank for years. Better to be a bit vegetarian for a week or two than get food poisoning. I have a small vegie garden for the greens and a sprout container. Tins of salmon, herring, sardines, good supply of flour, rice, sugar, salt and legumes can make lots of meals. Have a list of cakes and biscuits that can be made without eggs, or cooked on barbie etc. Thinking alternately.
    Personally living in a city, I’d like to be more water independant.

    Reply to Norma's comment

  12. EL on November 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    I don’t worry too much about my freezer. It’s small and always full. I wish I had another. I keep my meat in that freezer as it runs at -20 F. I keep breads and grains in my refrigerator freezer as that is a no-frost freezer (but I like the other better) and therefore has heating cycles.

    However, I do use the frozen water trick. When I want to take a long trip, I freeze all my water bottles a few days ahead. I then stick them in my cooler and have cold water for hiking while out. Ziploc bags of ice also work well, but aren’t as useful. If I am out camping and am in the same place for a while I quite often will ask a local store if they will put my water bottles in their freezer. Most of the time they are willing and that means that I have a cool freezer for the trip back.

    Reply to EL's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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