Power Out? What Have You Got to Lose?

We’ve had some major winter storms this season. Along with the snow, ice, freezing temperatures, and wind chill comes another problem: power outages. If you live in any area that has severe storms (tornados, thunderstorms, hurricanes) or natural disasters (earthquakes), chances are you’ve lost power a time or two. And chances are that you’ve lost lots of food thanks to extended outages. The experience is both smelly and expensive, one you’d probably like never to repeat. There are some ways to prevent spoilage if you prepare.

Normally, you should keep your refrigerator temp at or below 40° F (4° C) and the freezer at 0° F (-18° C), according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. When you lose power, try not to open your fridge or freezer. Every time you do, cold escapes, and the foods inside can begin to degrade. The fridge should keep things cold for roughly 4 hours and the freezer should be ok for 24-48 hours depending on how full it is.  If the outage continues past 4 hours, you can transfer refrigerated food to a cooler (that’s below 40° F) using ice or freezer packs.

Once the lights come back on, knowing which foods are still safe is crucial to keeping you and your family safe. Here are some simple tips to help you figure it out.

Prep before the storm: While you’re preparing your house for severe weather, freeze containers of water ahead of time to help keep food in your fridge, freezer, and coolers cold.

Bring out your cooler: If you have ice packs, put them in your cooler and place the food you want to keep handy (such as milk and juice) in it. That way, you can avoid opening the refrigerator and allowing warm air inside.

Timing is everything: If the fridge has been above 40° F for more than two hours, some foods will be fine: hard cheeses, butter, fresh fruits, fresh unpeeled veggies, ketchup, mustard, olives, pickles, etc. Discard perishable foods like meats, chicken, fish, eggs, and leftovers if they’ve spent 4 hours without power. FoodSafety.gov has detailed, downloadable lists to help you determine what’s safe to keep.

No samples: Don’t taste food to see if it’s still good once it warms. Germs that cause food poisoning can contaminate food that tastes normal and doesn’t smell.

Second chance for frozens: According to the FDA, you can refreeze or cook frozen foods so long as they still have ice crystals or the food thermometer reads below 40° F.  If the food has a weird color, smells funny, or feels like it could be too warm, toss it!

Keep a list: If you’re cleaning up after an outage and the garbage bag is filled with spoiled food, you may be able to offset some of your loss. Home insurance companies will typically pay up to $500 worth of food lost in a power outage—if the outage is covered by your policy. You won’t have coverage for maintenance issues, but if you lose your refrigerator contents, keep a list of what you throw out (with prices when possible) and send it in.

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