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What to Do with Perishable Food When the Power Goes Out

When the power goes out in the winter, is it OK to put frozen food out in the snow to keep it cold?

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
NDSU Extension Service

When I looked out the window during our recent two-day storm,
I noted that our icicle-shaped Christmas lights and cords were
drooping with real icicles. Some lines of lights had fallen
under the weight of the ice.

Falling Christmas lights are a little annoying, but they're
just an inconvenience. Being originally from a rural area with
above-ground power lines, I knew that heavy ice buildup on
power lines could lead to power outages. That can be a
dangerous situation.

While I didn't directly experience the recent power outages,
many of my friends did. For some, the power outage lasted for

Hopefully, we won't have another similar situation this
winter. Just in case, here are some questions and answers
about storing perishable foods during power outages.

1. When the power goes out in the winter, is it OK to put
frozen food out in the snow to keep it cold?

Keep in mind that a full freezer of food usually will keep
about two days, if the door is kept shut. A half-full freezer
will stay cold enough about a day. If you find that the power
will be out longer, you may need to resort to other methods to
preserve your frozen food. If it's short-term, the best thing
is to keep the freezer closed.

It's tempting to use our giant outdoor "walk-in freezer" to
store food, but storing food outside is not recommended by the
USDA due to potential variable temperatures, unsanitary
outdoor conditions and/or disturbances by animals. There can
be temperature fluctuations from the sun's rays, which could
thaw the food.

Depending on the outdoor temperature, you may be able to store
the food in impermeable covered plastic containers in an
unheated garage or other place where the food won't be
disturbed. Monitor the temperature and the state of the food.

2. The power's back on. Is it OK to refreeze foods that have
partially thawed?

If the food contains ice crystals and is 40 degrees or lower
as measured by a food thermometer, it's safe to refreeze. The
quality may be lessened, but it's safe. Discard food, such as
a previously opened bag of frozen fruit or bread, if it has
been exposed to juices from thawing meat.

Discard foods that have been warmer than 40 degrees for more
than two hours. If the ice cream has thawed, it's best to
discard it because of quality issues.

3. My basement became very cold and some canned food froze. Is
it safe to eat?

Canned food that has been frozen accidentally generally
remains safe. Ask yourself if the cans were in good shape
prior to freezing (no bulging, rusting, leaking, etc). Thaw
the cans of food in the refrigerator. If you detect off-odors
or other abnormalities upon opening the can, don't taste the
food. Discard it where no one will come in contact with it.

All this talk about chilly weather issues makes me think about
warm, comforting soup, such as this chili recipe.

White Chili

* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 4-oz. can chopped green chilies
* 2 16-oz. cans of cooked Great Northern beans
* 3 tsp. ground cumin
* 3 c. cooked chicken or turkey, diced
* 2 14-oz. cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
* 1 c. Monterey Jack cheese or other cheese of choice

Optional: Assorted toppings, such as shredded cheese, chips,
sour cream or salsa

Combine 3 cups of broth, onion, chilies, beans and cumin.
Simmer for an hour. Add cheese and chicken. Cook until chili
is thick, adding additional broth as needed. Top with shredded
cheese, nacho chips, sour cream and salsa if desired.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 350 calories, 42 grams of
carbohydrate, 9 grams of fat and 14 grams of fiber.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

:Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
:Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,

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