Submissions     Contact     Advertise     Donate     BlogRoll     Subscribe                         

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Downsizing Your Refrigerator - Or Not

Keggers in Bag

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Downsizing Your Refrigerator

An 18-cubic-foot Energy Star-rated Frigidaire refrigerator uses just over 1 kilowatt-hour a day (380 kilowatt-hours a year) — less than a standard clothes dryer — and costs approximately a dime a day to use ($38.00 a year). Downsizing to a dorm-sized. 3.2 cubic-foot refrigerator only saves about 50 kilowatt hours a year, or $5.00 a year.

Compare that to the additional costs of not having a refrigerator. It’s more onerous on those of us who live in the hotter southern and western regions of the US, where we only have a few days here and there of winter weather, and then only for 2 or 3 months out of the year. We would be spending much more time, energy, and packaging shopping each day to buy only what we needed for that day – or portion of a day – than what we spend on having a refrigerator of any size, especially if you are feeding 2 or more people.

If you use and keep a lot of dairy products, it’s more energy-efficient and economical to have a refrigerator. Consider those who eat meat, save leftovers, safely thaw frozen items, use it as one step in a cooking process involving marinating or slow mingling of flavors (gazpacho, anyone?), as part of the brewing process for homemade beers, sodas, and wines, to hold certain condiments at safe temperatures, or to keep items chilled for comfort (mostly beverages and certain medications, occasionally home made cosmetics). These are all valid uses of a refrigerator, ones that an ice chest just can’t cope with.

But – and there’s always a “but” – we can more efficiently use what refrigeration we have, and there are times when we may not have refrigeration available, perhaps during a power outage. Knowing some basic tips on how to live without refrigeration can help you through those times.

If you live in the wilderness, an RV, a remote rural area, or a house without electricity, then maybe a refrigerator makes no sense for you. For the rest of us, it is more efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly to have a refrigerator than to not have one, especially if we live in an apartment, a city, or a suburb and far enough away from stores we have to drive. Daily or twice daily shopping is inefficient, time-consuming, and a waste of energy. It adds to the pollution and increases the carbon footprint far beyond what a refrigerator would create.

So let’s talk about a more efficient use of our refrigerators.

The first tip is to properly set the temperature. To check your refrigerator temperature, put an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the middle of your refrigerator; let the thermometer sit in the water overnight and check the temperature in the morning, after at least an 8 hour period. To check the temperature of your freezer compartment (which should be set to about 0° F, put the thermometer in a glass of oil, and follow the same instructions for reading the temperature. If the temperature reading is too high or low, adjust the temperature setting in the unit. Check the temperature again using the same procedure.

The second tip is to properly store food in it. Don’t wash produce before storing them in the refrigerator. Washing them may accelerate the growth of mold on them. The exception is leafy vegetables, which should be washed and stored in plastic bags or containers with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. If you’re like me, the produce drawer isn’t large enough, so I added extra vegetable bins to my refrigerator. Not all produce should be stored in the refrigerator. There’s a list further down of what should be refrigerated and what shouldn’t be.

Select the smallest, shallowest container you need to hold your food. The less air space, the fresher your food will stay. The shallower it is, the quicker it will cool and stay cool. If you are wrapping your food, wrap it as tightly as possible, squeeze out as much air as you can. A vacuum sealer is a useful tool to use for food storage.

Label your food with expiration dates and use them before that date. Put the freshest foods in back and rotate the foods in back to the front so you use them in the order you purchased them. Keep a magnet chart on the refrigerator that lists how long foods last in the refrigerator or freezer.

Keep your refrigerator and freezer full but with plenty of air circulation room. Too full and the foods won’t cool sufficiently, not full enough and the unit works harder to keep the food cool. Find a good balance.

Completely clean out your refrigerator twice a year. It seems like there’s always something that gets lost in the back and it needs to be tossed before it gains sentience.

During a power outage, food will stay cool up to 2 days. In areas where the summer heat is appalling, I recommend supplementing the coolness with dry ice placed at the top of the refrigerator (the old cold air sinks, warm air rises). Open the door as little as possible. If the outage will last more than 2 days, prepare for living without refrigeration for a while (the next section details this).

You can refreeze partially thawed food. Re-freezing may damage the texture of the food, and may make it watery. Freezing (or re-freezing) does not kill bacteria or parasites, nor will it eliminate microbes already in the food. It will prevent or delay growth, and proper cooking will kill bacteria, parasites, and microbes.

When in doubt, throw it out. Medical bills cost more than replacing the food.

Once a year, unplug the refrigerator and clean the door gaskets and compressor coils; if there are pets in the house, clean the coils every three months.

Buy a refrigerator that has the freezer on top as it is more efficient than a side-by-side refrigerator. Also, choose an Energy Star-rated unit, which is even more efficient.

Don’t place the refrigerator next to the oven or in a spot that receives direct sunlight. The higher the ambient temperature, the more the unit has to work to keep cool. If you cool only one room in your house, let it be the room where your refrigerator is kept. This probably only applies where it gets insanely hot in the summer.

Foods to store at room temperature (around 60ºF to 75ºF):

Eggplant (cooler end, but not less than 50ºF or more than 60ºF)
Sweet potatoes
Winter squashes
Olive oil
Unopened condiments
Unopened canned goods
Unshelled nuts
Unopened beverages
Unopened boxed foods
Cooking oils
Baking powder
Baking soda (except when used as an air freshener in refrigerator or freezer)
Cocoa powder
Chocolate (unless the ambient temperature exceeds 80ºF, in which case, refrigerate to prevent melting)
Breads and cakes (may be frozen, but not refrigerated)
Unopened jams and jellies
Mustard (yes, even opened, up to 2 months, refrigerate if keeping longer)
Dried beans
Oil sprays
Sealed packet toaster pastries

In the fridge:

Top shelf:
Put your vegetable crispers here and store your refrigerator fruits and vegetables in them. Celery and asparagus should be stored upright in an inch of water. Citrus fruits, berries, cherries, pineapple, grapes, lettuces, broccoli, bell peppers, fruits and vegetables that have been sliced or need chilling (like bananas or watermelon) should be stored in the vegetable crispers up top.

Middle shelf:
Cheeses, butter, vegetable or grain leftovers, prepared snacks and lunches. If you have roll-out shelves so you can reach the back easily, so much the better.

Lower shelf:
Eggs, milk, beverages, meat-based left-overs. Keep the eggs in a closed carton to keep out odors. Keep wine on their side to keep the corks moist. If your wine doesn’t have corks, it can be stored upright. Again, slide out shelves are useful.

The very bottom:

Meats. Lunch meats, meats being thawed for later cooking, meats waiting to be portioned out and frozen later, marinating meats. This is the coldest spot in the refrigerator and meats do best here. Slide out shelves are very useful.

The Door:

Opened condiments like mayonnaise and salad dressings, especially reduced salt soy sauces as there’s not enough salt to preserve the soy sauce. Other soy causes can be stored at room temperature. Orange juice and recorked wine may also be stored in the door.

The Freezer:

Ice cream
Long term storage for grains
Pre-plated dinners

Group like items together.

Milk, whipped cream, and soft cheeses do not freeze well. The flavor isn’t a problem, but the fat separates out. They can be frozen to use in cooked recipes. Whipped cream will not whip well after being frozen.

Raw eggs must be separated before being frozen. Cooked eggs should never be frozen, especially boiled eggs.


No comments:

Post a Comment