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How to keep food safe when the power goes out

Snow in Rita's Yard 12-26-21Winter storms with feet of snow are making their way across the nation. Even here in the Seattle area, we had more than a foot of snow. With snow storms blanketing the eastern United States, including Georgia and South Carolina, thousands are or have been without power.

Food poisoning is a very real threat during a power outage. It’s important to take precautions to with food, so food poisoning doesn’t occur during or following stressful storms. 

Here tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on what to do about food safe during an outage:

If the power goes out  

Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping food at safe temperatures is key to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours, and a full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours – 24 hours if half full – if the doors remain closed. 
  • Use ice – dry, block ice, or ice cubes – and frozen containers of water or gel packs to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible.
  • Don’t rely on placing food outdoors. Temperatures can vary, especially if sunlight reaches the food even while temperatures remain low.

When power is restored

Before eating any food after a power outage, check the temperatures inside your refrigerator and freezer.

  • Be aware if the power was out for no more than four hours, refrigerated food should be safe as long as the doors were kept closed. When the power comes back on, check the temperature in the refrigerator or of the food. Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or leftovers with temperatures that are 45 degrees F or below, as measured with a food thermometer, should be safe but cook and consume them as soon as possible.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40 degrees F for four hours or more.
  • Be aware if the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below, food is safe and may be refrozen. If you didn’t have a thermometer in the freezer, check each package to determine its safety; you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below, it’s safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Be cautious: Perishable foods that aren’t kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause food poisoning if eaten, even after they’re thoroughly cooked.

If a storm is coming, be prepared and plan ahead

  • Use a refrigerator and freezer thermometer, and check it regularly to ensure that the refrigerator temperature is at or below 40 degrees F and the freezer is at or below zero degrees F. 
  • Plan for ice. Know where you can get dry or block ice. Make ice cubes and freeze containers of water or gel packs to help keep food cold when there’s a loss of power.
  • Keep coolers on hand to store refrigerated food if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately, and group foods close together in the freezer. 
  • Stock your pantry with a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that don’t require cooking or refrigeration.

Remember, there are serious risks to storing food outside.

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