It’s going to be an intense weekend throughout Texas as we wait for Hurricane Harvey to fully descend upon the Gulf Coast.
Over the next few days and into next week, millions of homes in Texas will be inundated with water and high winds, and even in Austin, they are predicting 15-25 inches of rain. That means you might be losing power this weekend, even if you aren’t in the eye of the storm.
MORE: The latest Hurricane Harvey news from the Austin American-Statesman
Hurricane season: Preparedness is key to surviving Central Texas storms
Most of us have some hurricane supplies — candles, battery-powered radios, propane tanks stored in the camping gear — but most of us have not gone without power for more than a few hours at a time.
Using FEMA and USDA guidance, here’s what you need to know about your fridge and freezer if the power goes out, as well as how to stay hydrated safely.
Before the power goes out:
Freeze all the ice packs you have right now, or fill up one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers and freeze those. If the power goes out, set up a cooler with those ice packs, and store the food you want to be eating up in that cooler, not your fridge.
If you think you’re going to lose power, put everything in the freezer, including leftovers and milk, which will help keep them at a safe temperature longer.
If you have an electric stove, you might as well cook while you can because you won’t be able to use it after the power goes out. Gas ovens might still work, but many require electricity to ignite the flame. However, you can use a match to light the flame for a gas stove if the power goes out.
Stock up on water, even if that means filling up a few giant Mason jars or pitchers you usually use for Kool Aid. You’ll need about a gallon of water, per person, per day, and water is running low at grocery stores. You might feel silly filling up random containers, but if you get flooded in or stores can’t restock water, it could save your life.
Store food and water elevated on shelves if there is a danger of flooding. The USDA has an entire page to help you know how/if you can salvage canned food, water and other provisions after a flood or power outage and how to properly clean out the fridge once the power comes back on.
Most importantly: Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling. That’s peanut butter and crackers, canned tuna and tortillas, beans and bread. Not exactly the kind of meals you look forward to eating, but it’ll get you through a disaster.
Download the Statesman weather app. The American-Statesman weather app is available for iPhone and Android devices. Statesman Weather features include radar, a 7-day forecast, real-time severe weather alerts, as well as the latest weather news and social sharing. Download for free in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores by searching for “Statesman Weather.”
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If your power goes out:
Do not open your fridge or freezer unless you have to. You want to try to keep those spaces as cold as possible for as long as possible.
Place thermometers in the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees or lower in the refrigerator, zero degrees or lower in the freezer. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
If you have access to dry ice, fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days. Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below.
Place frozen meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.
When to throw away that food? The USDA recommends discarding refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
If you’re starting to get close to that 4-hour mark, I would recommend cooking whatever you can, if you have a heat source. Cooking food will extend its life by a few hours. It’s not ideal, but at least it won’t totally go to waste, especially if you can share with your neighbors.
If your house floods:
Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.
Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).
If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.