Winter weather storms can lead to power outages, making it difficult to store food in your fridge or freezer safely. In areas where snow is on the ground, you may be tempted to put that food outside to stay cold (you wouldn’t be alone!), but the United States Department of Agriculture warns against this.
The USDA has a frequently asked question page that answers the best ways to keep food safe during an emergency. Although putting food in snow might seem like a quick fix, there are two main reasons why it may not guarantee freshness. For one, the outside temperature can vary by the hour even if snow is still falling, and the sun’s rays could still thaw out frozen food items. Secondly, placing your food outside leaves it vulnerable to animals and other unsanitary conditions. Wild animals can harbor bacteria and disease, the USDA explains, which is why food that comes in contact with them should never be consumed.
Instead, the Department of Agriculture suggests taking advantage of the cold weather by making your own ice cubes or freezing any ice packs you may have. These homemade ice cubes can then be placed in your freezer or coolers with your food to maintain its temperature and ensure it can be eaten later on without any potential health concerns.
As a general rule of thumb, items like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs should be stored at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and frozen food at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit. While this is hard to maintain during power outages, the USDA says keeping your fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible can help your food stay at the necessary temperature for up to four hours. If the doors stay closed, a full freezer can even maintain temperature for up to 48 hours. It’s also a good idea to plan ahead if you hear of an oncoming storm by purchasing shelf-stable milk, water, and canned goods that don’t require refrigeration to stay fresh.
You can read more about how the USDA advises individuals to keep their food safe during emergencies here.
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