With winter in full swing, it’s always good to prepare ahead of time if icy or snowy weather is in the forecast and there is the threat of a power outage. Eating spoiled or toxic food can lead to food poisoning, which can cause uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous health complications. As you plan ahead, consume food items you don’t want to lose. Turn your freezer to the coldest setting, and freeze items like meat so they have a better chance of staying safe if the power goes out. Fill containers with water and place them in the freezer—the extra ice will keep it colder for a longer period of time. Additionally, you can stock up on emergency supplies, like extra gas for your grill, and nonperishable food like cereal, peanut butter, crackers, nuts, fruit and canned tuna or chicken.
During a power outage, try to open your refrigerator and freezer as little as possible. If you cook on a grill or camp stove, do so outside. You can also make overnight oats by soaking oats in water and adding cinnamon, fruit and nuts in the morning for a balanced meal.
Once the power is back on, identify what is safe to keep. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours. Food is only safe in a refrigerator for 4 hours. Any food with ice crystals or that is at or below 40 degrees can be refrozen. The following are safe if kept above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours:
- Hard cheese and butter.
- Opened juice.
- Condiments – ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, taco sauce.
- Olives and pickles.
- Uncut raw vegetables or fruit.
You should then identify what to throw out. Meat, dairy products, dough and cooked pasta should all be thrown away. Throw out anything that has an unusual smell, color, texture or feels warm to the touch.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has eaten spoiled food and has food poisoning, reach out to your primary care provider for assistance.
Laura Jobe, RD, LDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian with Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services and has been working for Cone Health for more than 25 years. Jobe received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and diatetics from Central Michigan University in 1991.