Photo/IllutrationKaoru Komura's unplugged refrigerator (Provided by Kaoru Komura)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Think you're ready for a natural disaster? Then try unplugging your fridge and see how well you fare with meals for a week.

When a strong earthquake or typhoon hits, electricity is often the first thing to go, knocking out lights and air conditioning, but more importantly, the power to preserve food.

Kaoru Komura and her family in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, went fridge-free for seven days last spring to test their ability to deal with a disaster.

“My family started complaining on the fifth day,” said the 40-year-old organizing consultant and licensed disaster relief specialist, who is a member of the Osaka-based Japan Association of Life Organizers.

“For example, my children said they wanted something cold to drink and that mineral water was difficult to drink since they are used to barley tea.”

She and her husband live with their two sons, one in fourth-grade at elementary school and the other in first-grade, and their 2-year-old daughter.

Komura's goal was to find out how much food the family would need to make it through the week and the amount they would need to stockpile to prepare for an actual disaster.

She thought the experiment might yield some tips for use in daily life.

For lunch on their first day, Komura used a portable gas stove and served leftover rice, “natto” fermented soybeans, fresh salad and fried eggs. Dinner was boiled eggs, “chanchanyaki” fried salmon slices and veggies.

Komura said a stove that can maintain a low flame for two hours using a single gas cylinder is essential for preparing hot meals, which she made by boiling ingredients in plastic bags.

On Day 2, Komura stir-fried “yakisoba” noodles for dinner, followed by scrambled eggs, natto and ham on the morning of the third day, and salmon flakes and miso-flavored mackerel for dinner.

Though the Komuras went fridge-free in early spring, their meat and fish supply went off within three days.

From then on they had to make do with rice, vegetables that don't wilt quickly, instant noodles and canned food.

The family had to toss out half the items they had stockpiled because they went rotten when not refrigerated.

“We found we could only preserve food in the fridge for three days (without power), though that might be different in another season,” said Komura. “So stockpiling food in the fridge for longer is counterproductive.”

Komura said one way to curb the temperature rise in the fridge and freezer that occurs in a power outage is to photograph where food is inside.

Doing so cuts down on opening the fridge frequently to confirm what's inside. The more the fridge is opened, the faster the inside temperature increases.

Komura recommended that ingredients should always be placed in the same areas in labeled bags, since it's difficult to identify them in the dark.

Another thing worth remembering is that larger ice packs that stay frozen for 10 to 24 hours are useful as smaller ones melt within two hours or so.

Not having a fridge forced Komura to be more resourceful in her cooking, she said. When she failed to defrost ingredients properly, Komura found the finished dishes didn't taste as good.

Komura said storing soybean milk and other non-water drinks that can be preserved at normal temperatures made life easier, adding that it's a good idea to stockpile assorted snacks in small packages, as they help people relax. She also recommended vegetable juice drinks as a substitute for fresh veggies.

Since an earthquake or other disaster can strike when children are home alone, parents should avoid stockpiling foods their kids aren't used to eating, Komura said.

Food items with expired best-before dates should also be thrown away to reassure kids that the items available are OK to eat, she added.

The organizing consultant advised people to make dinner using stockpiled goods once a week using a “rolling stock” approach in which emergency food supplies are regularly consumed and replaced.

“Sampling emergency food items lets you decide whether you like them and if you should buy them again,” Komura said. “That gives you and your family a chance to think about what to stockpile.”

Komura also advised people to secure their refrigerators to the wall in case of a quake, and to put food cans, garbage and used diapers in plastic bags to stop odors from spreading.