Ways to prepare for winter power outages and avoid food-related illnesses

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – During winter months, health professionals say it’s a good idea to make sure your pantry is stocked and ready for a power outage.

Instead of rushing to a local grocery store before a winter storm to stock up on bread and milk, registered dieticians Betsy Eddy and Debbie Milne say to prepare your kitchen ahead of time.

“One of the things you can do is have a thermometer that hangs in your refrigerator and freezer,” Eddy said. “Your freezer should be 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below and your refrigerator should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.”

Once your power is out, they say to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed so it’ll act like an ice box.

“The freezer will keep food cold for 48 hours if the power goes out and is totally full,” Eddy said. “If your freezer is half-full, it’s only 24 hours, but this only works if you keep your doors closed.”

Eddy and Milne say before a storm, stock up on non-perishable items such as shelf-stable milk, canned beans, canned tuna, dried cereal and oatmeal. Fresh fruit is good to keep on hand too, they say, because it does not need to be refrigerated and provides a good source of nutrients.

Frozen vegetables are also good to keep in the freezer because they offer more nutrients than canned vegetables and can help keep other freezer items cold, they say.

“That’s a good time to bring out the gas grill,” Milne said. “You could do a tuna melt, using your bread and canned tuna.”

If you are “snowed in” but still have power, Eddy and Milne recommend keeping things like canned tomatoes, tomatoes and chicken or vegetable stock on hand for chili and soups.

“You may want to look in your freezer and say, ‘Oh, there is hamburger meat I haven’t used; maybe I can make a big pot of chili,’” Milne said.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, perishable foods like eggs and meats can be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (but under 90 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to 4 hours before spoiling.

Milne says if you know you’re going to hit the 4 hour mark, you should either toss your food out or move it to a cooler with a thermometer and make sure the temperature stays under 40 degrees.

“Forty to 140 degrees is the temperature danger zone,” Eddy added.

The FDA also recommends freezing containers of water ahead of time and keeping them in your freezer. That way, during a power outage, they can be used as ice, or you can thaw them for drinking water.

For a full list of the FDA’s guidelines on food safety during a power outage, click here.

To submit a health question for our series, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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