We have had quite a winter when it comes to power outages. In September we were treated to a world-class snowstorm that knocked out power in some areas of the borough for as long as four days. We’ve had a lot of snow this year. Some folks are getting some short-term outages or flickering of electrical services. This doesn’t surprise us as heavy snows on the lines can easily cause some outages.
We were lucky at my house. The first outage lasted for 48 hours and my freezers’ contents remained fully frozen for the entire time. However, some of the items from the refrigerator had to be tossed, because the outside temperatures were too warm for safety. But I also took a call from someone whose freezer was just accidentally unplugged for two weeks. I had the unpleasant task of telling him that there was no saving anything that had been in that freezer, which, of course, was full of game meat and fish.
Maybe you weren’t prepared the first time for the long outage, but now is the time to put your house in order so you will be prepared for the rest of the winter.
Food safety is of paramount importance when it comes to outages. Let’s take a look first at those refrigerators and freezers.
Keep everything as tightly closed as possible. Refrigerators should be kept at 40 degrees or below for proper food storage. Keeping the door closed will keep the cool air in. The refrigerator should keep food cold for four hours if it is unopened. If it appears that the outage will last for some time, you might want to transfer all the refrigerated items into a cooler and move them out in the cold air. This time of year it might freeze, but it is better to be frozen and safe than thawed and unsafe.
Freezers are generally kept at zero. If your freezer is full, just leave it shut and it will stay frozen for several days. In fact, you may want to use duct tape to seal the door.
When the power comes back on, you’ll want to check to the temperatures inside the refrigerator and freezer — you can’t rely on the appearance of food to determine if it is safe to eat. If it still has ice crystals or it is at 40 degrees or colder, it is perfectly safe to refreeze or to cook.
You may have heard that it is unsafe to refreeze meat. This is a myth. If food is completely thawed but is still below 40 degrees, you may experience some decrease in the quality of the product but not in the safety. If it still has some ice crystals, there will probably be no difference in quality. It is a food quality problem, not a food safety problem as long as it is below 40 degrees.
Refrigerators should also be checked for temperatures. If it has been at 40 degrees or higher for more than two hours, some food should be thrown away. In our two-day outage earlier this fall, I ended up throwing away most of what was in my refrigerator, but the freezer’s contents were perfectly safe. For further advice on whether food should be discarded, call Extension at 1-877-520-5211.
Probably one of the biggest challenges most folks have is water. You should store one gallon of water per day for each person in the house. Remember, if you have a well, the pump doesn’t work without electricity. Store enough water to take care of basic needs.
Make sure you have enough easy to prepare food to feed your family. If you don’t have a heat source, it doesn’t do much good to have canned items that need to be heated to be palatable. Peanut butter, canned meats and fish are good ways to feed your family without having to heat foods up. If you have a wood stove or camp stove to prepare meals, make sure you have a manual can opener. All the heat in the world doesn’t do you much good if you can’t open the can.
For further information, be sure to check out our publication, “Emergency Preparedness for Alaskans.” Also there are great websites for Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and our Extension Disaster Education Network (http://bit.ly/1ef5wdd).
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.