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Power Failures Present Food-preparation Problems

Power failures mean you may have a limited supply of water and no heat, refrigeration or a way to cook food.

“You need to change your cooking and eating habits during a power outage,” says Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist.

One step is to conserve fuel. Here are some tips for doing that:

  •  Consider the amount of cooking time you’ll need 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, eat commercially canned foods straight from the can. Do not use home-canned vegetables unless you can boil them for 10 minutes before eating them.
  • 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.
  • Consider alternative cooking methods, such as charcoal or gas grills, camp stoves, a fireplace, or small electrical appliances if you have access to an electrical generator.

These are some dos and don’ts of using alternative cooking methods:

  • Never use charcoal or gas grills indoors because of the risk of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide and the chance of starting a fire that could destroy your house.
  • Always use camp stoves that operate on gasoline or solid fuel outdoors.
  • Use wood to cook in a fireplace if the chimney is sound. Be sure the damper is open.
  • If you're cooking on a wood stove, make sure the stovepipe has not been damaged.
  • If you build a fire outside, do it away from buildings, never in a carport. Sparks can get into the ceiling easily and start a house fire.
  • Never use gasoline to start a wood or charcoal fire.
  • Make sure a fire is well-contained, such as in a charcoal grill or metal drum, or you put stones around the fire bed.
  • Be sure to put out the fire when you no longer need it.

You also need to conserve water in a power outage, Garden-Robinson says. You can do that by:

  • Saving the liquid from canned vegetables and substituting it for water in cooked dishes.
  • Saving the juice from canned fruits and substituting it for water in salads and beverages.
  • Preparing and eating foods in their original containers. This will help if you have limited dishwashing facilities.

These are some food safety precautions:

  • Boil all water used in food preparation for at least 10 minutes.
  • Open only enough food containers for one meal if you don’t have refrigeration. You can keep some foods a short time without refrigeration. Packaged survival or camping foods are safe. Peanut butter sandwiches also 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 because they are potential sources of food poisoning.
  • Substitute canned evaporated or powdered milk for fresh milk, and 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.

For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods.

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