If wind and flooding from Hurricane Florence do their worst in Charlotte, the time to get your kitchen set up is now.
With help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, here’s a list that might help:
▪ Put a bowl or ziplock bag of ice cubes in your freezer if you’re not going to be home while the power is off. If you get home and find they melted and refroze into a solid block, you know the freezer was out long enough that the food inside will need to be thrown out.
▪ Fill small containers or 1-quart plastic bags with water and put them in the freezer now. (Water expands when it freezes, so leave room for that.) They’ll keep everything colder and you can use them if you have to transfer things to a cooler.
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▪ Even if the power goes out, you should have running water unless you have a well. It’s still a good idea to fill some clean containers, such as bowls and pitchers, with water right before the storm hits. It will keep at least three days at room temperature. The water you froze will be available after that, if you need it.
▪ Go through your refrigerator and move things you don’t need immediately, like leftovers, milk and fresh meat, to the freezer. If the power goes out, a full freezer will keep things cold longer. While eggs don’t have to be refrigerated, once they’ve been chilled (including at the store), they shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than two hours: Condensation from chilling can encourage bacteria growth, which can penetrate the shells.
▪ Go through your freezer and group items. They’ll stay cold longer. Put packages of meat and chicken on a tray away from other foods. If they thaw and leak, they won’t contaminate the other foods.
▪ Get a clean cooler ready. If the power goes out, refrigerated food will stay sufficiently cold (if you keep the door closed) to keep foods safe for about four hours; a full freezer, kept closed, will stay cold enough for 24 to 48 hours. That’s when all those bags of frozen water will come in handy. Dry ice or block ice are better, but they may be hard to get. Set up a second cooler for things you need soon, like drinks, so you can keep the cooler with the perishables closed. Covering coolers with a quilt or thick blanket will keep the cold in longer.
▪ If you’re going to be home while power might go out, and you have appliance thermometers, put one in both your refrigerator and freezer. If the reading in the refrigerator rises above 40 degrees for more than two hours, you’ll need to toss anything in there that’s perishable. If the reading in the freezer gets above 0 for more than two hours, you’ll want to consider throwing out things that have fully thawed. How do you know? Their centers will no longer be hard, and/or you won’t see ice crystals.
After the storm
▪ If there is flooding, don’t eat anything that might have come in contact with flood water, including raw fruits and vegetables and cartons of milk or eggs. Any food that isn’t in a waterproof container has to be discarded. That can include things wrapped in plastic or with screw-on lids, home-canned foods and cardboard boxes of juice, milk or formula.
▪ After the power comes on, if you know how long it was off, go through the refrigerator and freezer. Throw out anything perishable that was above 40 degrees for more than two hours in the refrigerator. If frozen food still shows ice crystals, a hard center, or your thermometer showed the freezer temperature stayed close to 0 degrees during the outage, the food can be refrozen.