You might be all good without electricity—but your food won’t be so lucky. Your freezer stays cold for a day or two (depending on the model) after losing power, but then you’ll have to toss things or accept the risk of food poisoning. Eek! That’s why preparing for a hurricane means planning for flooding and high winds, as well as for power outages.
Here’s what the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends:
Keep non-perishable food on hand
Stock up on a few days’ worth of foods that require no refrigerator or cooking. Things like granola bars, dried fruit and nuts, cans or packets of tuna, beef jerky and peanut butter are all helpful to have in the pantry. Here’s our guide to keeping an expertly stocked pantry.
Have frozen water on hand
You can use big chunks of frozen water to turn your fridge into a makeshift “cooler” when the power goes out. Just freeze water in small containers, such as quart zip-top bags, making sure to leave enough room for the water to expand.
Consider keeping some coolers around
Since coolers (like this heavy-duty beast) are smaller than your refrigerator and designed to stay cool without electricity, you can sort your refrigerated food into cooler(s) in the event of a power outage. Use your frozen water to keep the coolers below 40° F for longer.
As soon as you hear that a hurricane’s on the horizon, consider freezing leftovers, milk, fresh meat and other items you don’t need immediately. Not only will this keep them colder for longer, but they can also be used to keep other foods cold in your fridge and coolers.
Just like people can stay warm by staying close to one another, cold food stays colder when adjacent to other cold foods. So as soon as you’ve gotten “wind” of a hurricane, group your food in your fridge and freezer so it stays close together to enhance the “igloo” effect.
When you build your “igloos,” consider segregating meat and poultry to one side of the freezer to prevent cross-contamination (from thawing juices).
Keep appliance thermometers in the fridge and freezer
This is worth doing even outside of hurricane season because it’s always nice to know your food is being kept at a safe temperature (40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer).
Keep your fridge and freezer closed as much as possible
An unopened fridge should keep your food cold for about four hours. An unopened (and full) freezer should hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). So if your power goes out, you’re best off if you open those babies as few times as possible. That’s another reason coolers come in handy: you can sort the food you use most often into its own cooler.
When the power returns
Check the temperature inside your fridge and freezer. Discard any perishables that have been kept above 40°F for two hours or more. Throw out individual food items if they seem “off” (unusual odor, color, texture or if they feel warm).