Keeping your food safe during a power outage - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

How to preserve food and supplies during a storm

Have you ever wondered how safe the food is in your refrigerator or freezer following a power outage?

The last thing you want to deal with after a power outage is a bout of food poisoning or having to toss out filet mignons, seafood, or other valuable food items in your refrigerator or freezer.

So, exactly how do you know what's safe to eat and how long you should keep those items?

One food safety expert America Now spoke with says even your perishables need an 'emergency plan' during inclement weather. 

Blackouts are bound to happen. When you're sitting in the dark, the safety of what's inside your refrigerator is all a matter of time and temperature. Once the power is restored, it's doubtful you'll immediately smell any harmful bacteria growing in your cottage cheese or the leftovers from last night's meal.

Ray Zoller is a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University and he knows a lot about food-bourne bacteria.

"Are you really wanting to risk your life for what's in your refrigerator?" Zoller asks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if your power goes out for more than two hours and the temperature of the food in your refrigerator exceeds 40 degrees Fahrenheit, those items may no longer be safe for consumption.

"When in doubt, throw it out, because that $15 or $20 invested is a lot less expensive than a trip to the hospital," Zoller says.

Is there anything you can do to protect your food before the lights start to flicker? 

Zoller says when you know a storm is approaching, start turning down the temperature in your refrigerator or freezer by a few degrees. Then, fill up bowls of water and ice and set one on each shelf.

Once the storm passes and your power comes back on, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water in those bowls. If the temperature in your refrigerator is warmer than 40 degrees, it is likely the surrounding food items will be the same temperature.

For milk or any other items you suspect are warmer than 40 degrees, immediately toss into the trash. If you still see shimmering ice crystals floating in your milk, you still have time to save it.

Be sure to place food items in your refrigerator with those most likely to spoil on the lower shelves. For example, raw meats should be in the lowest regions of your refrigerator just in case they begin to drip -- they won't come in contact with other foods you want to keep.

While your power is out, try to resist sneaking a snack. A closed refrigerator will keep things cold for about four hours. If you must open the door to retrieve something, make sure the items you use most are within close reach.

A full freezer maintains its temperature for 49 hours versus one half-full, which only holds its temperature for 24 hours. That's why it's important to stuff the empty space in your freezer with pots of water or other items.

Before going to bed, be sure to turn on your kitchen and bedroom lights. That way you'll wake up when the power is restored and you'll know how long any bacteria may have been growing in your food.

While power outages are no fun, you can save lots of money by knowing how to keep your food cold, and simply knowing when to toss food out to prevent consuming something that could make you sick.

If your power is off for days and food items start dripping inside your refrigerator, toss the products and thoroughly scour the shelves with two tablespoons of baking soda and a quart of warm water.

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