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How do I save food during power outages?
Q: I watched the news about the recent storm in NY, which is right across Lake Erie from me. I realized that even cold weather communities have problems, like losing electricity for long periods of time. How could I keep my fresh and frozen food from spoiling if this happened in my city?
Anne Cleveland
A: This is a particularly interesting question for me, Anne, because I live in Western New York, and we were definitely unprepared for the storm and the weeklong aftermath.

Regardless of where you live, if you lose power do not open the refrigerator door unless absolutely necessary. This not only preserves the chill in the refrigerator but protects the freezer as well. Unless the weather is very warm, you probably have 12 to 24 hours before the fridge temp rises above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the maximum recommend temperature for refrigeration.

Since we’re referring to an event where snow was involved, you have two options other than buying dry ice: for the refrigerator compartment, fill containers with snow and place throughout, particularly near perishables like meat and fluid milk. Your frozen foods are OK until they start to get soft and appear to be melting. As soon as you detect this, put snow into a picnic cooler, layer in some frozen foods, add more snow, then another layer of food—sort of like lasagna—and store in a shaded area outside. Once you close the lid, do not reopen unless you need to replenish the snow.

As for food safety after the event is over, if you were able to keep the inside compartment at or below 45 degrees, everything should be safe. However, you should still cook and use any meat within 48 hours. If your frozen foods still have crystals, they can be refrozen with the exception of stored breast milk, fluid milk or anything marked “do not refreeze.” In the case of Western New York, most people who used the available snow to their advantage were able to save most foods for at least 48 hours. Anything stored after that time that shows obvious signs of thawing or warming should be discarded.