Powerless to Prevent Waste?

With power outages, many in the Mid-Atlantic states are in a bind: hoping to keep their perishable food cold and unsure when to discard it.

That’s why this piece from The Washington Post is helpful. It includes useful food safety advice and tips to prevent food loss:

  • Transfer foods from the fridge to a small cooler with ice, dry ice or gel packs
  • Freezers will keep food safe for 2-4 days, depending on how full they are
  • Keep the freezer closed and hope power returns!
  • Partially-defrosted foods will be safe if they still have ice crystals in them.
  • Those optional refrigeration foods–peanut butter, pickles, olives, etc.–will be safe.

Another fabulous bit of advice comes from Jeremy of Compost Cab via Twitter (@compostcab): “Leverage community. We have power, and have been hosting friends (& their food) without. Less waste, stronger friendships!”

And then there’s the question of how to know when to toss foods. While it’s sad and expensive to say goodbye to entire fridges worth of food, nobody wants to get sick from eating bad food. The Post article has some good tips, but the simplest strategy is to go by temperature. Most perishables need to be kept below 40 degrees F and shouldn’t be above that for more than two hours.

Depending on what the food item in question, that may be a conservative estimate and there’s a bit of leeway. With foods that you’re not sure about, cooking it helps kill bacteria. But lacking power, many can’t do that. Here’s where the gas range or grill outside is a huge help.

Unfortunately, an increasingly familiar scene from these massive power outages is similar to the one in Charleston, W.Va.–rolling out the big Dumpsters to toss food.

Please share any stories or tips you might have!

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3 Comments

  1. WilliamB
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Don’t put ice in a deep freezer. Deep freezers are default set to about 0F, ice is 32F. So the ice will warm up your freezer.

    If your power returns soon enough that you’re sure your food is still safe, then don’t open the fridge or freezer yet. Give it a few hours to return to proper temperature.

    If you aren’t sure how warm your fridge got before power returned, remove one item as soon as power returns – milk is a good option – and take its temperature.

    If you bought extra ice, use the leftovers to water your outside plants. Ice melts slowly, giving the ground time to absorb the trickle of water.

    If you live in a neighborhood that loses power for a long time, have a BBQ party to use up that food now. Invite your neighbors, of course.

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