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Rachel K. Miller, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern   Date: 2/11/11

Celebrating an early release from the office quickly turned into a night that many DC metro area residents will never forget.  The same has happened recently in Chicago and other cities buried under snow as people found themselves stuck in their vehicles for six, eight, or 10 or more hours without any food or water.  And, how many discovered a power outage once they arrived home?  For many of us, rejoicing in the excitement of a snow day turned into rumbling roadside tummies or dollars wasted on spoiled food.  Here are some tips to keep you “food safe” and well satiated in the event of another power outage or weather-related traffic jam this winter.  

Timeline for Keeping Food Safe in the Event of a Power Outage  

Before the Power Outage:
• Make sure that there are working thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.
• Get a food thermometer that meets your needs and know how to properly use it.
• Know where you can purchase dry ice (most grocery stores).
• Set aside a few coolers (disposable foam ones will do).
• Stock a small section of your pantry with non-perishable food items and bottled water (see list below for ideas).

During the Power Outage:
• Food is safe in your refrigerator up to 4 hours, as long as the door has remained shut for the majority of the outage.
• During the third hour of the outage, start packing those coolers with dry ice and food from your refrigerator and freezer.
• Do not put your food outside in the snow—sunny snow days may cause food temperatures to rise to unsafe levels.
• If the temperature in your refrigerator or freezer is above 40° F for more than 2 hours, any food inside must be discarded.  Remember, “When in doubt, throw it out!”
• This Food Safety During Power Outages video walks you through the entire process in just one minute!

After the Outage:
• Use a thermometer to test the temperature of all foods before preparing them.  Most foods must be discarded if their temperature is greater than 40oF. 
   o For a more specific list of foods and a few exceptions, take a look at the following resources:
       Refrigerated Foods List
       Frozen Foods List
• If frozen foods are below 40oF, they can be refrozen. 
• If you’re not sure whether a particular food product is safe after an outage, don’t risk getting a foodborne illness. An off color or unpleasant odor is a good indicator that your food is spoiled, but don’t rely on these measures alone. Foods can be spoiled and still look and smell normal. 

Snacks to Keep in Your Vehicle

Non-perishable (and nutritious!) options include:
• Trail mix with a mixture of nuts and dried fruits
• Travel size boxes of cereal
• Granola, protein or meal replacement bars
• Single serve peanut butter packs and a sleeve of crackers
• Popcorn or rice cakes
• Roasted soy nuts
• Unopened, shelf stable meal replacement shakes
• Unopened, shelf stable juice boxes
• Unopened bottles of water
Be sure to keep an eye on expiration dates and replace food items as needed.   

So, before you find yourself without power or stranded in your car without food, water, or other necessities, take proactive steps today to be “food safe” and well-nourished in the event of another winter storm!  What do you plan to do to prepare for the next winter storm? 

For more information, visit:
Food Safety Resources (International Food Information Council Foundation)
Food Safety in Emergencies (
What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out Unexpectedly (CDC)
Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency (USDA)
Emergency Food Supplies: Shopping, Cooking, and Meal Planning (



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