Power Outtages: Food Safety & Emergency Preparedness

After all that’s happened recently with the tornados in our area – many folks are having to re-buy all those items they lost, including food.  Our ever-vigilant Deal Detective Kim put together some great info on what is safe to keep after a power outages and floodwaters – and how to be prepared for next time!

I am very blessed. I have power. I have an undamaged home, as do most of my family. I did not lose loved ones in this storm. One of my co-workers lost a home; another had serious damage, and a close friend’s co-worker is in the hospital AND lost her home. With most of the scary stuff behind us, what’s left is deciding what is safe to keep and what should be tossed. And SAFETY is the primary concern. Nobody likes to waste food or the money spent buying it, but if it makes you sick, it still goes to waste AND can end up costing you more money–ER visits aren’t cheap!! And if there’s one thing we’ve learned this week, if we didn’t already know it, NOTHING is more precious than life itself. With that in mind, here are tips from the folks who know–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • If the power is out for less than 2 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.

If the power is out for longer than 2 hours, follow the guidelines below:

For the Freezer section:

  • A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.

For the Refrigerated section:

  • Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

From the Dept of Agriculture’s website: (they say 4 hours, instead of the 2 the CDC says)

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.
  • Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
  • Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

Go HERE or HERE for a list of what you can keep and what you should toss from your fridge. Consider printing copies of the safety charts, laminating them, and keeping them somewhere in your kitchen for the next time.

OK, so you have power…you’ve tossed all the no-longer-usable stuff from your fridge. And you’ve sworn that NEXT TIME you will be more prepared. Here are a few ideas of items to keep on hand:

Sterno–this is at the top of my list! If you’re not aware, it’s basically gel fuel in a can. (You see it sometimes at banquets, under those big chafing dishes.) It’s good for heating canned foods, mostly. If you have an old-fashioned coffee pot (the kind that doesn’t plug in and percolates on a stove top) you can use sterno under it to make coffee, or you can use it to heat water for instant coffee.

The good folks at the Coleman company make tons of camping products, such as lanterns, portable grills, small heaters etc., powered by mini propane cans. You can get the cans at Publix for about $7-8, and you can sometimes find good deals on a 4-pack at Lowe’s. Even if you hate the idea of camping, some of the things are good to have in the event of an emergency!

Go HERE for recommendations on what and how much of it to keep in an emergency kit. If you have pets, include them in your plan–where will Fido and Fluffy go if you have to go to a shelter and it doesn’t allow pets? Have carriers, even if they’re the inexpensive cardboard kind from the vet, so you can safely transport them. If you don’t have that, a plastic storage tote with a few holes cut in the top will work in an emergency.

If you don’t build a stockpile, at least consider stockpiling a few non-perishable food items–maybe in a plastic storage tote in the garage or under a bed–in case of an emergency. I have donated to several in need lately, and my stockpile is greatly diminished, but I am so thankful for what I have, I couldn’t even consider not sharing! I will be working to replenish in the coming weeks, and praying for those who’ve lost so much. The need is so great. But I want you to picture the world as a beehive. Did you know that each bee brings back only a few drops of nectar to the hive? It takes them all working furiously, all summer, to make even a small amount of honey, but they do it by working together, each giving a little, to make a lot. Come on, worker bees!! :-)

If you have been affected by the storm, in whatever way, know that thousands, maybe even millions, are praying for you, and the community is here to help.


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