Keeping Food Safe During a Winter Power Outage

Tips for keeping your food safe if you lose power in the middle of a severe weather event.

Depending on where you live power outages can be a common problem. It’s likely if you live in such an area you know what to do but maybe you don’t experience a power outage very often, especially in the middle of winter, and you aren’t quite sure how to keep your food safe and minimize the risk of spoilage. Below are some tips to help you keep food safe during a winter power outage.

Power outages can occur at any time, none of which are convenient, and can last from several hours to a few days. If food isn’t kept cold it can become unsafe for consumption. According to the USDA, bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, and if these foods are consumed, people can become very sick.

Preparing for a Weather Emergency

  • Keep a thermometer in the freezer and refrigerator. It will help you determine the temperature in case of a power outage. Ideally, your freezer should be at 0 °F or below and the refrigerator should be below 40 °F.
  • Freeze containers of water, ice packs, gel packs, etc that you can later use to help keep foods cold.
  • Food that can be frozen (left overs, etc) should be. It will help keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Have a couple coolers handy to help keep food cold if the power is going to be out longer than 4 hours.

Keeping Your Food Safe When Power is Out

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the cold air in. An unopened refrigerator will keep food safe for approximately 4 hours. A full freezer will keep food safe for about 48 hours; less if it isn’t full.
  • According to the USDA, you don’t want to place food outside during a power outage in winter. The temperatures can vary, animals can get to it and other unsanitary conditions could contaminate it. Instead, fill buckets and empty containers with water and leave them outside to freeze. You can then use them to cool coolers, refrigerator and freezer.
  • Before consuming any food that may be questionable you should check it with a thermometer to determine if it is under 40 °F.
  • Bunch food together, it will help it stay cold longer. The less area you need to cool the better, use a cooler when necessary.

Sometimes you only need to buy a little time before the power comes back on but unfortunately we never know exactly when that will happen. These tips can help keep your food safe longer. Remember, never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat AND if in doubt, throw it out.

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