Food safety when the power goes out: Winter edition

Heavy storms can cause power outages no matter the season. When summer heat is in full force, torrential rainstorms can knock out power lines like they were nothing, just as rapidly accumulating snow and ice can do the same in winter.

Winter power outages come with their own unique challenges, however. When heavy snow and ice take down a city’s power grid, it can be nearly a day or many days before the problem is solved. Ideally, being without power in winter, you can still keep your home warm. Somehow you’ve got to make sure your refrigerator, however, remains the opposite.

Here are some guidelines for dealing with these circumstances:

  • Only open the refrigerator door to remove food for eating, and don’t keep it open any longer than necessary.
  • Throw out perishable food that’s been above 40°F for two hours or longer. Keep thermometers in your freezer and fridge to keep track of which items may have crossed that line.
  • Frozen food that thaws during the outage can be re-frozen as long as they never reached above 40°F.
  • You can also put the items you normally refrigerate into the freezer to help them keep cool longer.
  • Put dry ice or block ice in your fridge if power is out for more than a few hours, if you can get ahold of it at a local store. It will help maintain cooler temperatures.
  • Pack items tightly to help them conserve coldness. Ice cubes and frozen gel packs can help with this too.
  • Make sure you have plenty of shelf-stable food on hand that doesn’t need refrigeration, in case all else fails.
  • Have some bottled water in storage, so you can break it out in case it’s needed.
  • It may seem wise to store food out in the snow, but animals might tamper with it, and the outdoor temperature can fluctuate.

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