Everything You Need to Know About Cold Food During a Power Outage
With hurricane season approaching, it's possible your electricity will be knocked out for days at a time. What happens to the food in your refrigerator during that period? How long can it survive, and how can you tell if it's safe to eat? Here's everything you need to know about cold food and power outages.
Does the Quarter Trick Really Work?
What if you need to evacuate during a storm or hurricane? There could be an extended outage while you're gone. How do you know if your food is safe to eat? One trick that's been circulating is to freeze a cup of water and place a quarter on top. The theory goes that if, when you return home, the quarter is still on top of the ice, that's a sign that your refrigerator/freezer never lost power, and your food is fine. However, if the coin is inside the cup, then the ice at least partially melted and refroze, and your food should be thrown out.
In practice, it's more complicated than that. Since ice floats, there's a chance that even if a significant portion of the cup melts, the coin could remain on top. Additionally, a solid block of ice can take several days to melt. However, food in your freezer will only keep for a day or two, tops, without power. To determine if your food is safe, you need to go through each item individually.
How to Know if Food Is Safe
If your power has been out for four hours or more, here's a list of foods to keep and foods to throw away.
- Any meat, whether cooked, raw, or partially defrosted
- Leftover soups, stews, sauces, and casseroles
- Eggs and egg-based dishes
- Milk, yogurt, and most other dairy products
- Soft cheeses and shredded cheeses
- Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit that's been cut
- Most cooked vegetables
- Uncut fresh fruits
- Canned fruits and fruit juices
- Dried fruits
- Butter or margarine
- Hard cheese and processed cheeses
- Breads and bread products
- Fresh mushrooms
- Fresh herbs
This isn't an exhaustive list. Foodsafety.gov has more information on what to save and what to discard. And never taste food to see if it's bad. When in doubt, throw it out.
How to Safely Prepare Your Food for an Oncoming Storm
First, transfer as much food as you can from the refrigerator to the freezer. Group it together and fill the bottom shelves first. Since heat rises, that area will stay colder longer. Dry ice helps as well, allowing your freezer to maintain below freezing temperatures for up to two days.
Additionally, covering the fridge with blankets provides insulation, to keep heat from getting in.
Assuming you're not evacuated, a food thermometer can help you keep track of the temperature. As long as it stays at or below 40 degrees, your food should still be safe to eat.
Most importantly, when your power goes out, open the refrigerator and freezer doors as little as possible. Every time you open them, heat enters, raising the ambient temperature and making your food go bad faster.
Invest in a Whole Home Generator
One way to keep your food cold through the storm is to invest in a whole-home generator. Even if the power does go out, a generator will keep your refrigerator and freezer running just fine, ensuring all your food remains safe and cold.