There’s a particular kind of panic when the power goes out. You can’t charge your devices or even turn on a light switch. There’s no air conditioning or WiFi, and your appliances won’t work. Although it may be inconvenient not to be able to brew a cup of coffee or blow dry your hair, one of the biggest concerns during an extended power outage is the safety of the food inside your refrigerator.
You have a limited time before your refrigerated food reaches unsafe temperatures, so it’s important to be prepared.
Buy appliance thermometers to keep inside your refrigerator and freezer.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should always keep your refrigerator at or below a temperature of 40 ºF, and your freezer at or below 0 ºF. Many refrigerators only have settings to raise or lower the temperature, but they don’t provide an actual temperature reading.
Keeping appliance thermometers inside your refrigerator and freezer is a great way to be proactive in the event of a power outage. Not only will you know that your appliance is cooled enough to withstand a power outage, you will also be able to tell when the temperature warms to an unsafe point.
Freeze bottles of water.
Power outages are not uncommon in some parts of the country, especially during hurricane tornado and winter storm seasons. The USDA recommends keeping frozen bottles of water in your freezer. Not only will this help keep frozen food cold longer, but you will also have a supply of fresh drinking water in case your water supply becomes contaminated.
If water bottles are in short supply, which often happens when a storm is approaching, the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests freezing fresh water in quart-sized storage bags and food-safe plastic containers.
Buy or make your own bags of ice.
Buy bags of ice to keep in your freezer to help maintain its temperature, and to use later if you have to transfer your food into a cooler. If your freezer has an ice maker empty the ice cubes into gallon-sized storage bags each time the tray is full.
You can also consider buying dry ice in the event of a power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice will keep your freezer cold for up to two days.
Group your frozen food together in your freezer.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends grouping all of your frozen food together in your freezer if you are anticipating a power outage. This will help keep your food colder for a longer period of time.
Transfer items from your refrigerator to your freezer.
If there is a possibility of a power outage, the FDA suggests transferring some of your refrigerated food to your freezer to keep it at a safe temperature for a longer period of time. Items such as milk, meat, poultry, and leftovers can be frozen and will defrost quickly when needed.
Keep the refrigerator door closed.
One of the most important things you can do during a power outage is to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. According to the USDA, in a power outage, a refrigerator will stay cold for up to four hours, and a freezer will keep its temperature for 24 hours if it is half-full and 48 hours if it is full.
During this time you should eat shelf-stable foods and keep drinks in a cooler so that you don’t have to keep opening the refrigerator.
Keep a cooler or two handy in case of a prolonged power outage.
If it looks as though your power will be out for more than four hours, the American National Red Cross recommends packing refrigerated food into a cooler filled with ice and keeping it at a temperature of 40º F or below. Prepare a second cooler for your freezer items if the power will be out for more than a day.
Any food that has been exposed to temperatures above 40º F for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90º F, should be thrown away.
Don’t keep food outdoors.
If your power goes out during a winter storm, you may be tempted to keep some of your food cold outside in the ice or snow. The US Department of Health and Human Services warns that this could invite wild animals looking for a meal. Additionally, when the sun comes out, your food may be at risk of being warmed to unsafe temperatures.
Stock up on shelf-stable food and charcoal/propane for your outdoor grill.
Try to keep your pantry stocked with nonperishable food and make sure you have a manual can opener. Consumer Reports suggests cans of beans and vegetables, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, crackers, snack bars, pouches of fully cooked whole grains, nuts, and shelf-stable milk. Don’t forget to stock up on charcoal or propane for your outdoor grill.
Cook food that is beginning to thaw.
Food that is beginning to thaw, but is still at a safe temperature, can be cooked on the grill. Use a food thermometer to make sure each item is cooked to a safe internal temperature to kill any foodborne bacteria. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that beef, veal, lamb, pork and ham should be cooked to 145º F. Poultry and ground meat mixtures should be cooked to 165º F
Before cooking, check each item separately. Any food that with an unusual odor, colour, texture, or if it feels warm to the touch should be thrown out. Don’t risk getting sick. If you’re in doubt, throw it out.
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