Right now, millions of Americans across the country are experiencing power outages and sub-freezing to sub-zero temperatures. For many in Southern states this is a new experience and the blackouts only make coping more difficult and more dangerous.

Karen Blakeslee at Kansas State University has given some advice on how to properly prepare and keep food safe to eat during this winter storm and in the event of a power outage.

Do not store food outside
Consumers are advised not to store food outside, such as in snow. “This is due to fluctuating temperatures, physical damage due to curious pets or other animals, or contamination of the food from vehicle fumes, dust and grime,” she said.

Place a thermometer in the fridge
Consumers should start by putting an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer.

“Some appliances have built-in thermometers but if the power is out, you won’t be able to read the temperature,” Blakeslee said. “As long as the temperature inside the appliance stays below 40 degrees F the food will be safe.”

Keep fridge and freezer doors closed
When a power outage occurs, consumers should try to keep the doors of the appliances closed as much as possible to keep cold air in.

“An unopened refrigerator will stay cold about four hours; a full freezer will hold temperature for about 48 hours,” Blakeslee said. “If you have access to dry ice, add some to the freezer to keep food frozen longer. However, use caution when handling dry ice.”

When in doubt, throw it out
If a consumer is unsure about a food’s safety, Blakeslee suggests following the saying, “When in doubt, throw it out!” 

“If the appliance temperature goes above 40 F for a long period of time, some foods will be too warm and can invite the growth of bacteria that may be present,” she said. “For example, if frozen raw meat thaws out, and is warm to the touch, it should not be saved.”

Check the FSIS guide
Blakeslee pointed to a guide available online from the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service that outlines when to save and when to throw out potentially unsafe foods.

“While throwing out food due to an appliance failure or power outage is wasteful, it is a lot cheaper to do than paying for medical treatment due to foodborne illness,” she said.

More resources
FSIS’ YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe.

Ready has provided a list of suggested emergency food supplies. That list can be found here. Ready is a National public service campaign designed to educate and empower the American people to prepare for, respond to and mitigate emergencies, including natural and man-made disasters,

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