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Preparing for Power Outages

Allison M. Oesterle and Elizabeth L. Andress
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Revised May 2013

Summer brings with it inclement weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms, often resulting in power outages. Donít be caught off guard by these outages. Plan ahead and be prepared so that you can save the food in your refrigerator and freezer, and maintain the safety and quality of it.

In preparation for bad weather, fill freezer bags with ice to make ice packs or purchase freezer-pack inserts. Have coolers available and easily accessible. Styrofoam ones work great. Make sure you have a calibrated food thermometer for checking the temperature of your potentially hazardous food. Find out now where to purchase blocks of ice or dry ice; donít wait until the emergency strikes to know if dry ice is even available in your community. Also, turn refrigerators and freezers to the coldest settings before an expected storm.

When the power goes out, unplug the freezer and refrigerator, as well as other appliances, to protect them from electricity surges when power returns. Make sure everyone in your household knows not to open the refrigerator or freezer doors; keeping the doors closed will keep the food cold for a longer period of time. Wrap the refrigerator/freezer in blankets, making sure they donít touch the compressor, to create extra insulation. If it seems that the power will be off for more than 2 to 4 hours, re-pack refrigerated items into coolers with plenty of ice.

Items in the freezer potentially can stay frozen for 2 to 4 days, depending on the size of the freezer, how full it is, and how well insulated it is. A full freezer that had been operating at 0°F will keep foods frozen for about 48 hours if the doors remain closed; a half-full one can only be expected to keep food frozen for a maximum of 24 hours. For extended power outages use blocks of dry ice in the freezer. A fifty pound block of dry ice will keep the contents of a full 18 cubic foot freezer frozen for 2 days. Remember to wear gloves or use tongs when handling dry ice.

When the power does return, check the internal temperatures of all of your perishable foods with a calibrated food thermometer. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40°F for more than 2 hours.

Preparing and planning for severe weather can help you to save the foods that are in your refrigerator and freezer and ensure that they are safe for consumption.

For more information:

From The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service:

From the Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA:

Allison M. Oesterle is a former Educational Program Specialist-Food Safety with the Cooperative Extension Service, Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, The University of Georgia, Athens.

Elizabeth L. Andress is an Extension Food Safety Specialist with the Cooperative Extension Service, Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, The University of Georgia, Athens.

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