Don't Put Food Outside If Your Freezer Loses Power, Says USDA

Instead, consider using freezing temperatures to make ice to bring inside.

Extreme winter weather has caused blackouts in cities across the U.S., and among the many issues that stem from a lack of electricity, powerless residents may begin to worry about the contents of their refrigerator and freezer. But even though cold weather may have gotten you into this mess, don't assume it can also be the way out. Experts are advising people not to put perishable or frozen foods outside in the snow and cold while their appliances are down.

Interestingly enough, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) addresses this question directly on its website. "A snowstorm knocked down the power lines, can I put the food from the refrigerator and freezer out in the snow?" a frequently asked question inquires.

Frozen tomatoes
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FSIS actually has a laundry list of reasons why this could be a bad idea. The sun's rays can thaw food even when the air is freezing cold. Outside temperatures can vary hour by hour, potentially more than can be safe for your food. And, of course, "perishable items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions or to animals [which] may harbor bacteria or disease."

So what should you do? Thankfully, FSIS has you covered. First, don't panic. "The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened," the site states. "A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed." That leads to another good piece of advice: Don't repeatedly open and close the door unnecessarily.

If the power will be out for a while, the FSIS suggests you "obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible." And here is where cold weather can come to the rescue: "Consider taking advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice," the agency writes. "Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers."

Meanwhile, FSIS has plenty of tips on how to be prepared in case your power goes out. Sure, that may not help you this time, but now may be as good a time as any to grab a pen and paper and make an old-fashioned list. Speaking of which, they also have a handy list of what to throw out and what to keep if your refrigerated or frozen foods haven't maintained their temperatures. You can find all that info here.

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