By Paula Wethington / Monroe on a Budget
Every time someone tries to talk me into buying a deep freezer to stockpile meat and other groceries, I shake my head.
I don’t want the hassle of trying to save a freezer full of food when any scenario involving an extended power outage means I am also likely on news reporter duty.
That happened Monday.
A high wind warning for Monroe County went into effect about 8:15 a.m. Shortly afterward, my co-worker Ray Kisonas learned that high winds were causing scattered power outages. Ray’s list of affected neighborhoods included one close to me, and I soon confirmed through the DTE Energy outage map that my house was off the grid.
The problem was by the time either my husband or I could get home to deal with the situation, our refrigerator would be off for four hours. The best I could hope for was saving only some of the food.
Based on the details in the U.S. Department of Agriculture publication, Keep Your Food Safe During Emergencies, this is what I decided to throw out, what to try to save and how to save it.
Perishable foods will stay safe in a refrigerator four hours.
I knew we would lose numerous refrigerator items, as the USDA says four hours is the limit for most perishable foods. For example, I dumped a gallon and a half of milk down the drain. Other items I tossed included a container of sour cream, a partial package of lunch meat and two cups of yogurt.
Some items normally kept cold are fine.
I kept the dried fruit, mustard, ketchup, pickles and jelly, as suggested in the USDA “safe to eat” list for power outage situations.
I also left the pop and beer alone. There are people who say changing temperatures affect the taste of those beverages, but they were at least in a cool, dark place.
Freezer food is fine, to a point.
If you have a full freezer, according to the USDA, it can hold the temperature for about 48 hours. A half-full freezer will hold the temperature for about 24 hours.
The problem is I didn’t even have half a freezer worth of groceries. This outage happened between my shopping trips. Our inventory included a couple of pounds of chicken, one pound of ground beef, some burgers, some chicken patties, frozen veggies, shredded cheese and frozen dinners. They needed to be repacked into a smaller space in a hurry, and bagged ice in our picnic cooler was the best approach for handling that.
I also had half a carton of ice cream, but I decided that wasn’t worth the hassle of saving.
In some cases, a homeowner or renters insurance policy will replace the value of groceries lost in a power outage, but if that isn’t an option, or the amount of food tossed isn’t worth filing a claim, I would not want to eat food that may be unsafe.
The USDA report says “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Find the USDA report at http://tinyurl.com/foodsafetyusda.
Readers may contact Paula Wethington at email@example.com or (734) 240-5745.
Follow up for the blog readers
I was asked, as this story made the rounds to family and friends, why I went to the trouble of repacking the freezer food as it should have been fine in the freezer for the time frame involved. We were off the grid for about 9 hours by the time it settled out.
I decided not to take that chance, since I didn’t know how long we would be without power.
DTE Energy didn’t have restoration times posted in the early stages of our outage, and at one point was posting a restoration time of more than 36 hours. That scenario was quite believable, as we had two weather-related outages back to back in summer 2008 that lasted nearly 48 hours each.
We don’t have a gas-powered generator, but at some point we will get one to help out with groceries and other power outage nuisances. We installed a backup sump pump two years ago, so at least that concern is taken care of.