It’s undeniable that we take electricity for granted. When a power outage occurs, it’s easy to find yourself automatically pressing a light switch when you enter the room, plugging a phone in to charge or sitting on the sofa and picking up the remote.
A power cut can happen for a number of reasons, but when the worst happens, the key to staying safe, comfortable and reducing food wastage is knowledge and preparation.
After Hurricane Sandy struck last year, Millions of Americans were left without power. An explosion at a Manhattan power plant and severe damage to utility pipelines left New York and surrounding areas in mass blackouts for over a week, with many struggling to source food, water, shelter and warmth.
Although your power cut is more likely to last an hour or two, it’s still important to put safety first. To prepare for a power failure, make sure you have a battery-operated or wind up radio. Keep a few torches, spare batteries, important documents and your radio to hand rather than at the back of a drawer, and be careful if you’re using candles and matches around pets and children. Wear plenty of clothing, stay in one room and use blankets to keep warm.
While you may be happy playing board games by candle light, check on elderly or ill neighbours who may rely on electricity for medical equipment or moving up and down stairs. If you live in a residential tower block above the sixth floor, a power cut can also cause your water pump system to fail. If you’re stocking up on bottled water or snack foods from the supermarket, it may be best to buy some for your neighbours too.
Switch off and unplug all sensitive electrical equipment like TVs and computers to protect them from a potentially damaging surge. You can turn on a few light switches so you’ll know when the power is back.
A power outage doesn’t necessarily mean throwing away a fridge and freezer full of food. If you have prior notice of the supply being cut off due to maintenance work, then you can move your items to a friend or relative’s appliance.
If your electricity unexpectedly cuts out, keep the doors closed on your fridge and freezer. Frozen foods may be ok for up to 24 hours, but this depends on your freezer and its temperature settings. The best way to tell is to lightly touch your frozen meat, fish and dairy products after the power cut; you only need to throw them away if they’ve started to get soft. You might also need to bin any foods which are eaten frozen, like ice cream.
Refrigerated foods are more complicated. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 40oF for more than two hours, you’ll need to evaluate it. All meat, dairy and poultry will need to be thrown away, as will any milk, eggs, pre-cut or pre-washed vegetables, cooked rice, pasta and potatoes. Hard cheeses, fruit juices and most condiments will be ok. The full list can be found on the Direct Gov website.
If your power outage is the result of a flood, you’ll need to throw away any foods which have come into contact with potentially contaminated flood water.
Electric cookers and microwaves will be unusable, but a gas cooker may be able to provide you with a hot meal. Many modern gas stoves have electric igniters, but you can carefully light the burners with a match or lighter; use the lowest gas setting and extra long matches or a cooker lighter so you don’t burn yourself. You may find you are unable to safely light the oven – check with your manufacturer’s guide.