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Every summer my family vacations in a cabin in the northern woods. It’s not exactly rough – there’s running water, electricity, and even HBO. But the wiring is a bit more subtle: the septic system isn’t always ready to go, and the power goes out in the blink of an eye, often multiple times during our stay due to raging summer storms. Last year, when I was driving up, my parents called me – I had to stop to get as many flashlights as possible, but don’t worry, they covered the ice box. I arrived with a full bag of flashlights in hand to find that my parents had packed both the freezer and fridge with ice packs and kept the door closed, leaving only a few items in the Igloo fridge in case we needed something to eat or drink. .

The ice cream, I was told, had to be eaten right away because it melted too much. We drank three pints in about 20 minutes. When the electricity was turned back on, everything was still cold to the touch—even the ice had barely melted. That’s a lesson I’ll be taking with me this summer as I just experienced my first power outage of the season, although this year I’m also going to throw in some good advice straight from the FDA about how to protect your food during a summer storm or flood.

How to prepare your kitchen for a power outage or flood

Make sure your fridge and freezer has some sort of temperature sensors – if not, you’ll definitely want to invest in an appliance thermometer. The temperature in the freezer should always be at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.

If you have food in your fridge that you won’t touch for a while, feel free to toss it into the freezer – this includes leftovers, meat, and even milk. This will not only help keep these foods fresher longer in case of an emergency, but it will also provide additional cooling in the freezer, keeping whatever is packaged there colder longer. If you don’t have a ton of food to fill your freezer, just freeze other containers filled with water to fill any empty space to keep everything nice and cold.

Always store dried goods on shelves and not on the floor. This will keep any critters from entering your home to try and snack on them, and also keep them from flooding. The higher off the ground your food is stored, the safer it is from any water that might seep in.

For added safety, store dried foods in airtight, waterproof containers. And while we’re mostly against bottled water, having a pitcher or two on hand ensures you have safe drinking water if a flood threatens your water sources. It’s always a good idea to have a few refrigerators and dry storage containers on hand in case you need to move groceries out of the fridge, freezer, or pantry.

What to do with food if there is a flood

If your food has been visibly affected by flood water, this should be repaired, including damaged and leaking containers such as cans and cartons. If your waterproof items have been touched by flood water, or if your jars and retort bags (such as flexible, non-perishable juice or seafood bags) are intact, there’s a chance they can be salvaged!

You just need to clean everything: remove labels, brush off dirt, wash with soap and disinfected water, and air dry for at least an hour before opening these containers. You can also use a marker or any other alternative label to mark expiration dates and any other valuable information from the labels you have removed.

If you haven’t invested in these water jugs like we told you (it’s okay, we’re not angry, just disappointed), you can create safe drinking water by filtering it through clean clothes and then boiling it for at least one minute. before storage in a clean container.

How to make sure food is edible after a power outage

In the event of a power outage, once the power is back on, first check the freezer and refrigerator thermometers to see if they are at these magic numbers (below 0 degrees and below 40 degrees respectively). If the power goes out for four hours or less and the refrigerator and freezer doors are closed, your food should be fine. You can check the foods with a food thermometer and if they are 45 degrees or lower then those foods will be safe.

If the electricity has been out for more than four hours, and the temperature in the refrigerator is above 40 degrees, it is safest to get rid of perishable food. Be especially careful with meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs.

Check the freezer for ice crystals. If there are still ice crystals on the package, refreezing is safe. If food has been defrosted, discard it.

And remember, if the power outage seems like it could last a while, there’s nothing wrong with opening the freezer at least once to get ice cream and make yourself another frozen treat for dinner while you can.

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