September is National Preparedness Month, so as we trepidatiously pass through the remainder of the summer blackout and wildfire season, there’s no better time to talk about being prepared when the lights go out. And before we know it, the likelihood of winter storm power outages will be looming.
Your refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees or lower for optimum food freshness and safety. The freezer should be set at 0 or below. Nowadays, there are many models of refrigerators with electronic panels that allow for setting a specific temperature. There are, however, a great number of models still on the market that use a number scale of 1 to 5, for example, with 1 being the coldest and 5 being the warmest. So, it’s a good idea to keep an actual thermometer inside your refrigerator. Plus, if the power goes out, the electronic temperature control panel won’t be very useful.
When the power goes out, the contents of a refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours — if the door does not get opened at all. A fully stocked (unopened!) freezer, on the other hand, will keep food at temperature for up to 48 hours. A half-full freezer will keep food cold for about 24 hours.
As a general rule, perishable food that was stored above 40 degrees for more than two hours’ time should be discarded. This includes meat, fish, eggs, and poultry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises tossing items like fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, dairy- and cream-based sauces and condiments (think mayo, tartar sauce, etc.), and even leftover cooked foods like rice, pasta, baked potatoes, and other vegetables. Perishable foods that measure up to 45 degrees using a food thermometer are still considered safe but should be consumed as soon as possible.
If a power outage seems likely to occur, such as planned safety outages during times of high fire risk or when a winter storm is forecast to hit, there are a number of measures residents can take to be prepared.
Freezing containers of water ahead of time and placing them in the refrigerator or freezer will help keep the unit colder for a longer period of time in the event of an outage. The melted ice can also double as drinking water should the need arise. Any items in the refrigerator that can be frozen should be placed in the freezer prior to a possible blackout. This will not only keep the food from perishing in the refrigerator, but also help maintain the temperature of the freezer for a longer period of time.
Fill freezer storage bags with ice cubes and freeze any ice packs you already have in advance. And of course, it helps to have coolers filled with ice on hand prior to any outage because, as is seen more typically during winter months, it can be near impossible to drive into town to buy supplies once a storm arrives.
Dry ice is a great way to keep your fridge cold. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will keep the temperature of a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for three to four days. However, proper handling of dry ice is crucial, as mishandling can result in severe burns. Also be sure to prevent dry ice from coming in direct contact with food.