We have had several requests from folks to address preserving freezer foods in the wake of a power outage in the hours leading up to Hurricane Matthew. And truth-be-told we have really never extensively covered emergency situations. So here is a compilation of some resources you might find helpful in maintaining frozen food safety during a power outage caused by a hurricane, tornado, or other severe storms.
- If you are able, acquire a generator before the event so that you can keep the freezer/refrigerator running periodically.
- Move your frozen goods to a friend/family/neighbors house that still has power.
- If the above two aren’t an option, get zippered freezer bags and containers, fill them with water (not full, leave some room at the top for expansion) and place them in the freezer PRIOR to the outage. Place them around your frozen food. Once they freeze they will help your food to stay frozen longer. More food in freezer = better.
- You might also consider finding a place to purchase dry ice to store around the food.
- Any foods that will leak juice when they thaw (meats, poultry, popsicles, fruits) should be put in containers that will catch the drippings if the power goes out and they begin thawing. Doing this BEFORE the power goes out ensures you will have to open the freezer/refrigerator less often AFTER the power goes out – increasing the longevity of the items.
When the Power Goes Out:
- Keep the doors shut as much as possible. If there are foods you need frequently you might consider keeping them on ice in a cooler that you open and close and not the entire refrigerator.
- A full freezer will last about 48 hours if you don’t open it before the food will start to be above the temperature it needs to be. If it is half full, it will only take about 24 hours (so combat that by filling water bags or containers as described above – filling it with water bags to full would help the food stay longer.
- Add dry ice to them to keep them cooler for longer. Dry ice can increase the life for up to 2 days.
After the Power is Restored:
- Don’t immediately hold the unit open for a long time, but do check the items to see if they are spoiled or not. When in doubt, throw it out.
- If frozen items still have ice crystals on them, it is okay to let them freeze again.
- If raw meat has thawed but is still below 40 degrees (hasn’t gone above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours) you can cook it and refreeze it.
- If a meal has thawed but is not above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours then you may also cook that and consume it.
- Most insurance companies will cover the cost of food lost during an event that is covered by your insurance (hurricane, tornado, storm, etc). If you are making a claim for other things (flooding, roof, etc) you may want to also check to see if the cost of your food lost is covered as well.
Again, I do hope that everyone stays safe through hurricane (or whatever power outage brings you to this post). In the end, the safety of your family is more important than consuming your food. Also, our resident insurance agent would like you to know that USUALLY your homeowners insurance covers the cost of food lost during a natural disaster if you are making a claim for other things. You should note that. That could be especially helpful to those of you that buy whole cows, pigs, chickens, etc at one time.