Living a car-based nomadic lifestyle means that I don’t have regular access to refrigeration. Constantly dining out can be a financial drain if not managed well, so I decided to see how far I could push a pantry of typically refrigerated items in an unrefrigerated environment.
The experiment began by borrowing an ice chest from my friend. The ice chest was placed in the backseat of my car, which would often be parked in Los Angeles, outside and uncovered during the day. This was to be the location of my unrefrigerated perishable pantry.
Next, I bought two large cold packs. The concept was to always have one pack in the chest while the other recharged in the freezer of a hostel or coworking space, and to swap them every morning and evening.
Finally, the pantry was stocked. At the onset, it contained beer, chocolate, raisins, bananas, coffee, eggs, orange juice, veggie sausage patties, mayonnaise, ketchup, and bread.
The cold pack idea didn’t work, not because the concept was flawed, but because I didn’t actually implemented it. In less than a week I completely disregarded the schedule and ignored the cold packs.
The ice chest did provide some measure of insulation against the raw outside temperature and temperature fluctuations. However, what I could keep, and for how long, was definitely limited without an actual cooling agent in the chest.
The beer, chocolate, raisins, bananas, coffee, mayonnaise, and ketchup were fine. They lasted for many weeks without spoiling, giving me plenty of time to consume them.
The eggs and bread were also OK, and I typically consumed them in about a week. I also kept some bagged spinach in there, which lasted for almost a week.
The only items that really suffered were the orange juice and veggie sausage patties.
Once opened, the orange juice began to ferment. (A process with which I am quite familiar.) Yeast ferments faster under warmer conditions, so the OJ, which was in my car in the LA heat, spoiled fast. The 64 oz jug was actively fermenting on the third day open.
If you don’t mind your OJ a bit carbonated, this isn’t a deal breaker. I mitigated the issue by switching to 32 oz jugs, which I drank within three days.
The veggie sausage was another matter. This item really did need to remain refrigerated, if not frozen. Mold began to grow on it and the outer surface became slimy within three days of opening the package. At that point, I did not ingest it.
Many “must refrigerate” items survive long enough to consume without strict temperature control. I am able to have a handful of unrefrigerated perishable items in my pantry, however, they must be consumed within four or five days, and maintaining a large stock isn’t an option. I adjusted my shopping habits to buy OJ in smaller containers and avoid frozen items.