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Sep 17

12 Alternatives to Survival Without Traditional Refrigeration

Posted by admin  filed under Off-Grid, Tropical Refrigeration   0 Comment(s)    Add a Comment  comment-icon.png

Off-Grid Tropical Refrigeration:


When I first went off grid in the North West, I had no idea of how to survive without refrigeration.  After living and experimenting with many methods in different climates, I do now.  And boy, like you, I was in for a rude awakening.

For some of you that are reading this and living off-grid, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” While others that still live very much on the grid are thinking, “this woman is insane”!

Regardless of where you are at, it is important to understand that all lifestyle amenities are just that, amenities. They may not always be available, and we should know what to do if we are forced to live without them.


Just so you know, as of now, I have no plans to go back on the grid, or go into debt to refrigerate anything. You will experience REAL OFF GRID LIVING while staying here.


Options for convenience are your responsibility and choice to get, if you so choose. The whole point of being here is to live simply, learn to do things differently, sustainably, without traditional conveniences of the city.

Most people that come here have a dream of owning their own land, building a home, and living off grid. When that dream materializes, it very seldom matches reality. It's tough and you have to have a can do attitude to make it. Without that you won't make it through the week.

So here are a few ways to live without refrigeration, whether it be by choice or necessity.

1. Ice: Not as workable as you think $$$

Anyway, if you are looking for an alternate route for refrigeration, buying a cooler and stocking it with ice EVERYDAY in the tropics, is a an option, a very costly one. $3-5 per bag, depending on the store. $90-$150 per month for ice.

You can buy a cooler and get ice from any local gas station if you must. Just remember it won't last but up to 24 hours.

Obviously, you’ll have to pare down what you actually refrigerate if you use this method. But, with a little downsizing, this would help you to refrigerate what you absolutely need from time to time, depending on your personal budget.

2. In a cooler climate: Keep The Home Fires Burning

So you have leftovers you want to save for the next meal. I don’t blame you. It is one less one less meal I have to cook.

A mainland method to do this is to keep the leftovers on a wood cook stove or even keep on your solar oven to keep them simmering. This will help keep any bacteria from forming. But at night solar isn't working, night temps rarely drop below 65 degrees, which can be a problem for this method, and keeping a fire going all night isn't allowed in Ag land here. It's a forest.

It just isn’t safe or practical here.

You do not want food poisoning, so it is better to err on the side of caution in this instance and buy just what you're eating for that day for meat and dairy perishables. Frozen meats last a day or so before having to cook. I choose this method if I'm eating meat, but I rarely do.


The island way is to use natural preservatives in soups, pasta/potato salads like fresh Turmeric. You can also learn more as you stay here.

If the worst happens, and you are not able to consume it all within a 24 hour period, you will have some happy farm animals that will gladly accept your leftover bounty.

3. Quit Your Local Supermarket

I don’t say that to wage war with the local grocers. But I do say this to help you on your journey of breaking free from consumerism and being tied to conveniences such as a refrigerator.


If you buy ahead of time at the grocery store, then you have to have a way of storing it. There's no other way.

Instead, just buy what you need, adjust to a different diet lifestyle, or just raise it yourself on your homestead.

When you need milk, go milk the cow or goat (I don't have either, but you may choose so when you move onto your land. If you need meat, butcher it that day. This will help you stay away from the issue of storing items that might require refrigeration if kept long term.


None of our animals are for consuming, just byproducts, ie eggs.

4. Does It Even Require Refrigeration?

We refrigerate a lot of things in America that a lot of other countries do not. Dare I say, we could probably do without refrigerating half of the things that we do.

Condiments don’t require refrigeration, for the most part, even mayonnaise. Most people don't know that mayonnaise was created to make eggs shelf stable! Keep in a dark cool place up tp two weeks after opening, pickles too.

Fruits and vegetables do not require refrigeration.

You can actually store most vegetables (like lettuce) with their stems attached and placed in water. The rest of the fruits and vegetables can be stored in a cool place where they can be separated out.

This will help keep mold at bay.

If you do have items that require long-term storage, consider preservation methods like dehydrating or canning.

Here is a more detailed list of foods you don't need to refrigerate.

Even if you aren’t interested in going completely off-grid, this might be a good list to keep on hand in case of a power outage and while living here.

5. A Spring House

I lived in a place that had an artesian spring coming out of the ground, and that solved many problems of refrigeration off grid.

Spring houses are great. I love the fact that they are not only gorgeous but also a great way to store food that needs refrigeration without the use of electricity.

I didn't care a bit if I had to walk out of my door to get to my refrigerated items. I loved the ease and simplicity of my life, I still do.

If you are unfamiliar with a spring house, it is a building that you build right over where a spring comes up out of the ground. The cool water helps keep the building materials cold and creates natural refrigeration.

6. Fish Baskets And An Old Well

If you have an old functioning well and a few fish baskets, then you have refrigeration. I don't know of any wells on the island, so this really isn't an option here.

You will need some Mason jars that you can pack and seal tightly. Place them in the fish baskets and then submerge them in the well.

This will keep your items cold that need refrigeration without a lot of fuss. So if you have an old well on the mainland, put it to use.

7. Leftovers: Don’t have any

Another solution to your leftovers is just not to have any. It is a simple task with practice and consideration when you plan meals. Meal planning is a HUGE factor in living off grid..

Then you don’t have to worry about any leftovers that will need refrigeration.


Cooked food sitting at room temperature is in what the USDA calls the "Danger Zone," which is between 40°F and 140°F. In this range of temperatures, bacteria grows rapidly and the food can become unsafe to eat, so it should only be left out no more than two hours. Apr 20, 2015

8. Expiration: How long food really lasts

We all know that stores have expiration dates on their products that are a little premature. It is important to understand when foods will actually go bad.

If you know this then you can skip refrigeration and not worry about having to prolong their expiration.

HERE is a great resource to help you figure out how long products can actually last without refrigeration. Then you'll know what is safe and what isn't, and avoids excess waste.

9. Evaporative Cooler Fridge

When I was honestly considering giving up refrigeration, this was one option I truly considered to use as a replacement.

Basically, what you do is find a three-tier plastic shelf. After you have it assembled, you need to place it in the coolest part of your home. Then take old sheets or towels and soak them in water. Be sure to wring them out and then use clothespins and clip them on the edge of the shelf.

This will help retain moisture and provide coolness to your refrigerated food without taking up a ton of space or causing a ton of fuss.

Here are more details on how to build an evaporative cooler fridge.

10. Zeer Pots

This is a good idea for storing food if you only have small amounts that need to be refrigerated. Zeer Pots was a design created for people in Africa so they could store some of their foods for longer periods of time.

The whole idea behind this is that you use two terra cotta pots, then fill the larger terra cotta pot up partial with wet sand. This helps serve as an insulator for the food.

You will then place the smaller pot in the larger pot. Then place the food inside the small pot and place a lid on it.

If you begin to notice your food is heating up, just add more cool water to the sand. Even if you have larger quantities of food that needs to be stored you could just use multiple pots.

This is a very economical way of having some form of refrigeration without electricity. I used this when I first moved here and it worked well. Here's how you make one.

11. A Radiant Fridge

This is another really neat idea that I once considered.

They actually show it with wood built all around it.

Then they placed the insulted solar oven outside at night. The tricky part is it has to be able to have full shade during the day to help hold in the cool air.

Basically, you open the oven with all of your refrigerated items and allow the cool air to take over.

Then in the morning, you just go outside and shut the radiant fridge. That is all there is to keeping your food nice and cool.

12. Root Cellar

They are great for storing canned foods and freshly harvested foods like root vegetables.

There are simple options for a root cellar and more in-depth options too.

Need more insight on what you can actually store in a root cellar?

Here is a great list.

You know root cellars work because this is what our parents and grandparents used before refrigeration was so common.

I have tried using the freezer in the ground option as a root cellar in the North West, but not here in Hawai'i . In my experience, it is a good idea if you don’t need to store a lot of food AND if you live in an area where the ground temp is cold.

I also live in a flood zone, so a root cellar is out for here.

A storm shelter is another usage of a root cellar on the mainland only if you are worried about taking on a larger project. It has a dual purpose there. It's best to be prepared.

Well, that is all I have for you today. I hope these 12 tips on how to live without refrigeration will help you adjust to here, and on whichever sustainable living path you take after leaving Breathing Aloha.

I'd love hearing about what interests you in this post, in the comments below.


A hui ho!


(c) Breathing Aloha LLC 2017

Permission to use is granted with full attribution and link back with no changes to article.

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