By Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN
Expect the unexpected. Stormy weather can cause a power outage — for hours, days or weeks. Sometimes it doesn't even take a storm to cause a power outage. Whatever the cause, it's important to be prepared for power outages — especially during severe weather season.
Power outages put your food supply at risk, so be prepared. Store at least a three-day supply of food and water. Better yet, aim for two week's worth if you have room. Keep one gallon of clean drinking water for each person per day; one quart for each dog or cat per day. A cool, dry, dark place away from cleaning supplies and petroleum products is best for storing your emergency food and water stash. Refresh it when you change your clocks every spring and fall.
What Are the Best Foods and Beverages to Have on Hand?
Shelf-stable foods and beverages that don't require refrigeration, special preparation, cooking or the addition of water are ideal for your emergency supply. Skip extra salty or spicy foods which may cause extra thirst. Choose individual-sized portions when possible. Use this list to get started:
- Bottled water
- Shelf-stable cartons (aseptic packaged milk) or plant-based milks
- Meal replacement bars and beverages
- Canned low-sodium beans
- Canned low-sodium fish or poultry
- Canned and freeze-dried veggies
- Canned and dried fruits; fruit spread
- Shelf-stable cartons (aseptic packaged) or canned soups
- Nuts and nut butter
- Whole-grain crackers and cereal
- Individual condiment packages (save ones from restaurants)
- Canned pet food (if a pet owner)
- Add your favorites
Also, check that you have a manual can opener. Stock up on disposable or biodegradable cups, plates, utensils and paper towels. If you’re a grill owner, store necessary grilling supplies and cooking utensils. Store a bottle of unscented liquid chlorine bleach (away from food) to disinfect water used for general cleaning and sanitizing: use 1 tablespoon bleach per 1 gallon clean water. Plus, have plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Clean hands will help reduce your risk for foodborne illness.
Step-By-Step Approach to Keep Chilled Food Safe during a Power Outage
- Don’t open the refrigerator or freezer until necessary — and then limit the times you open the doors.
- Enjoy all perishable food from the fridge, plus any soon-to-expire items from your pantry and ripened foods from your garden. Food in the refrigerator should be safe for up to 4 hours if the fridge is kept closed.
- Reach for freezer foods. If your freezer is unopened, well-sealed and insulated, and well filled, foods are usually safe for two days. If half filled, foods are usually safe for one day. Be prepared by stocking your freezer; freeze containers of water to make ice for keeping food cold.
- Use shelf-stable foods and beverages, including those in your emergency supply.
Check the appliance thermometer temperatures. Once above 40°F, the food is only safe to eat for up to two hours.
What's Safe to Eat after Power Is Returned?
- If your refrigerator and freezer temperature reached 45°F or higher, discard all spoiled foods.
- Test food with a food thermometer. Foods may be safely refrozen if they’re 40°F or lower— or if they contain ice crystals.
- Once your refrigerator returns to less than 40°F, restock it.
- When in doubt, throw it out. Never taste food to determine if it’s safe!
What to Do Now … before the Lights Go Out?
Set your refrigerator to below 40°F and freezer to 0°F or below. If you don’t already have your three-day food and water supply, appliance thermometers or manual can opener, add them to your shopping list. And stay safe!
Learn more about food safety in a flood »
Reviewed May 2013
Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a Brooklyn-based culinary nutritionist, writer, and media personality. She's author of several cookbooks and blogs at Tasteovers by Jackie.