MANHATTAN, Kan. — Record-breaking cold temperatures and rolling blackouts during the spell of extreme winter weather could leave people without power in their homes.
Researchers a Kansas State University urge people to have a plan for safe food storage if you are unable to run your appliances.
“Some appliances have built-in thermometers but if the power is out, you won’t be able to read the temperature,” Karen Blakeslee, food scientist at K-State, said. “As long as the temperature inside the appliance stays below 40 degrees F, the food will be safe.”
Energy companies throughout the are and country are instituting rolling black outs in an effort to conserve energy during the intense cold temperatures. Blakeslee said keeping the doors shut on a refrigerator or freezer can help keep as much cold air inside as possible.
“An unopened refrigerator will stay cold about four hours; a full freezer will hold temperature for about 48 hours,” Blakeslee said.
She added that if you have access to dry ice, adding some to the freezer can help hold temperature for longer, but use caution when handling dry ice.
With so much cold air outside, and in some cases now, Blakeslee recommends that people avoid putting food outside in an effort to keep it cold.
“This is due to fluctuation temperatures, physical damage due to curious pets or other animals, or contamination of the food from vehicle fumes, dust and grime,” Blakeslee said.
If the temperature inside your refrigeration goes above 40 degrees for extended periods of time, it could invite the growth of bacteria. Blakeslee suggests following: “When in doubt, throw it out.“
In a Q&A section on the USDA’s website, they agree that placing food outside and in the snow to remain cold is not a good idea.
A snowstorm knocked down the power lines, can I put the food from the refrigerator and freezer out in the snow?
No, frozen food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun’s rays even when the temperature is very cold. Refrigerated food may become too warm and foodborne bacteria could grow. The outside temperature could vary hour by hour and the temperature outside will not protect refrigerated and frozen food. Additionally, perishable items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions or to animals. Animals may harbor bacteria or disease; never consume food that has come in contact with an animal. Rather than putting the food outside, consider taking advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.
“While throwing out food due to an appliance failure or power outage is wasteful,” Blakeslee said. “It is a lot cheaper to do than paying for medical treatment due to foodborne illness.”