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What to do When the Fridge Goes Out During Stormy Weather

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog,Pathogens on March 30, 2019

If you live somewhere with inclement weather, you probably know a thing or two about preparing for a storm or a hurricane. You know to make sure that you’re stocked on batteries and drinking water. You know where to look or to listen for updates. You probably know what your house needs, too – where it is likely to flood, for example, or whether you need to put plywood up over your windows to try and prevent them from breaking.What you might not know is what to do with your fridge during the storm. What if the fridge goes out?

If there’s a significant chance that you’re going to lose power, the safety of the food that you’re keeping in the fridge could be compromised. No power means that the fridge won’t work, which means that it’ll stop refrigerating the things inside, which means they might warm up to the point where pathogens awake from their slumber and begin to contaminate the food.

Luckily, there are steps that you can take to guard against the risk of spoilage in a storm situation. If you’ve got food in your fridge you’d like to hold onto, and you think there’s a good chance that you’ll be losing power a bit later on, here are some tips to help you prepare for the situation:

  • The freezer is your friend: In the event that you lose power in a storm, the freezer is going to start at a colder place than your fridge. It makes sense, therefore, to pack as much of your food into the freezer as possible before the power cut. You’ll want to fill in the spaces between items as much as possible in order to maximize the space that the freezer has on hand. If you expect that you’ll be without power for a longer period of time, it might be wise for you to run down to the store and pick up some dry ice: you can use it to extend the period of time that your freezer can stay cold without power, ensuring that the items inside don’t thaw out and become a breeding ground for germs.
  • Shut the front door: The front door of the fridge, that is. This may seem pretty elementary, but it bears mentioning: you need to keep the door shut in order to keep your fridge and freezer cold. Every time you open the door, you’re letting cold air out and warmer air in. If the fridge isn’t powered, then the cold air inside is a limited resource; you’ll want to preserve it as long as you can before the food begins to spoil. To this end, you should keep the door of the fridge shut as much as you can. Don’t open the door to check on the food or the temperature of the air inside.
  • Watch the clock: You’ll want to keep track of the amount of time that passes between the moment that you lose power and the moment that your electricity has been restored. Food only keeps in an unrefrigerated environment for about four hours; after that, it’s no longer safe to eat. Although we’ve already stated that opening the door of a fridge is verboten, you may have to do just that on a regular basis in order to make sure that the food inside hasn’t gone bad behind your back. Just watch to see when the temp rises above 40 degrees; once it’s done that, start the countdown. Any food that’s been in the fridge for more than 4 hours after that can’t be saved.

 

  • Clean up after yourself: Once you make it through the power outage, you’ll want to go through your fridge and throw out anything that’s gone bad. You’ll also want to wash down the inside to discourage any bacteria who may have taken advantage of the temporarily warmer climes to establish a foothold in your fridge. To do this, you can prepare a washing solution using highly diluted bleach. Take everything out of the fridge and wipe it down with the solution to deny the bacteria surfaces on which they can grow. Be sure to do this promptly, as some dangerous pathogens can cover themselves in a protective biofilm if given enough time to grow. In some cases, one pass with bleach won’t be enough to break up that biofilm, so you’ll want to act before they’ve had a chance to establish such a foothold.
  • Fridges can’t survive floodwater: Let’s say that you not only experience a power outage but also have floodwater enter into your house, perhaps submerging your precious refrigerator. If this is the case, you’ll have to throw the whole fridge away. Nobody wants to hear that, as fridges are expensive and don’t grow on trees, but floodwater is about the nastiest stuff imaginable: it likely harbors just about every kind of dangerous or unpleasant bacteria, as well as all kinds of industrial chemicals and other nastiness picked up from the environment. The seals on fridges aren’t good enough to protect the insides from the kind of grossness that floodwaters bring. So, if the flood reaches your fridge, you’re best off throwing the whole thing out.

That’s the skinny on how to handle a fridge during a storm. In short: cold air is a limited resource, so pack everything into the freezer and keep the door shut as much as possible. Once the temperature rises above 40 degrees, start the countdown clock and be aware of when your food is going to spoil. And when you’re doing your cleanup, be sure to throw out anything that has spoiled and clean your fridge – or, in the case that your house floods and the waters reach your fridge, be sure to throw out everything. We write about this thing frequently, so if you have any further questions continue to watch this space or feel free to write us an email. We at MakeFoodSafe hope you (and your food) are safe this storm season.

By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)