Global Affairs

Don’t Store Food Outdoors, Even if You Lose Power in the Winter

Illustration for article titled Dont Store Food Outdoors, Even if You Lose Power During the Winter

Photo: Berezovaya Nonna (Shutterstock)

Situations that involve losing electricity are usually pretty stressful. That’s because you’re often not only dealing with the lack of power, but it typically happens in the context of something else, like a massive storm or natural disaster—like the extreme winter weather in Texas and many other parts of the country this week.

When power outages happen in the summer, it’s pretty clear that any food you had in your refrigerator or freezer will be unsafe to consume relatively quickly. But during the winter, it should be OK to bring perishable foods outside—especially if there’s snow—and store them there until the electricity comes back on, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. But there is one thing you can do to use the cold temperature to your food’s advantage. Here’s what to know.

Don’t store food outdoors

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), it’s not safe to store frozen or refrigerated food outside—even if it’s cold outdoors and/or there is snow.

There are several reasons for this, the FSIS explains:

  1. Frozen food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun’s rays even when the temperature is very cold.
  2. Refrigerated food may become too warm, allowing food-borne bacteria to grow.
  3. The outside temperature could vary hour-by-hour and the temperature outside will not protect refrigerated and frozen food.
  4. Perishable items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions or to animals. Animals may harbor bacteria or disease; never consume food that has come in contact with an animal.

What to do instead

If you really want to try to salvage some of your perishable food, instead of putting it outside, the FSIS suggests taking advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice.

“Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze,” the FSIS advises. “Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.”

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