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Preparing Food During a Power Failure

During a power failure, cooking and eating habits must change to fit the situation. You may have no heat, no refrigeration and limited water. In addition, health risks from contaminated or spoiled food may increase. When preparing food during a power outage:

Conserve Fuel

  • Consider the amount of cooking time needed for particular foods. If you have limited heat for cooking, choose foods that cook quickly. Prepare casseroles and one-dish meals, or serve no-cook foods.
  • When cooking is not possible, commercially canned foods can be eaten straight from the can. Do not use home-canned vegetables unless you have the means to boil them for 10 minutes before eating.
  • Consider these alternative cooking methods:
    • Charcoal or gas grills are the most obvious alternative sources of heat for cooking. Never use them indoors. In doing so, you risk both asphyxiation from carbon monoxide and the chance of starting a fire that could destroy your home.
    • Camp stoves that use gasoline or solid fuel should always be used outdoors.
    • Small electrical appliances can be used to prepare meals if you have access to an electrical generator.
    • Wood can be used for cooking in many situations. You can cook in a fireplace if the chimney is sound. Don't start a fire in a fireplace that has a broken chimney. Be sure the damper is open. If you're cooking on a wood stove, make sure the stovepipe has not been damaged. If you have to build a fire outside, build it away from buildings, never in a carport. Sparks can easily get into the ceiling and start a house fire.
      • Never use gasoline to get a wood or charcoal fire started.
      • Make sure any fire is well-contained. A metal drum or stones around the fire bed are good precautions. A charcoal grill is a good place in which to build a wood fire. Be sure to put out any fire when you are through with it.
  • Do not cook frozen foods unless you have ample heat for cooking. Some frozen foods require considerably more cooking time and heat than canned goods. Also, if power is off, it is best to leave the freezer door closed to keep food from thawing.

Conserve Water

  • Save liquids from canned vegetables. Substitute these for water in cooked dishes.
  • Drain and save juices from canned fruits. Substitute these for water in salads and beverages.
  • Prepare and eat foods in their original containers, if possible. This will help if dishwashing facilities are limited.

Observe Health Precautions

  • Boil all water used in food preparation for at least 10 minutes.
  • If you are without refrigeration, open only enough food containers for one meal. Some foods can be kept a short time without refrigeration. If available, packaged survival or camping foods are safe. Peanut butter sandwiches are a safe, nourishing option. Do not serve foods that spoil easily, such as ground meats, creamed foods, hash, custards and meat pies, unless they are eaten right after preparation. These are potential sources of food poisoning.
  • If necessary, substitute canned evaporated or powdered milk for fresh milk. Use only boiled or disinfected water to mix powdered milk. Use reconstituted milk immediately after it is mixed if you have no refrigeration. If safe water or water disinfectants are not available, use canned or bottled fruit juices instead of water.
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