If you follow some simple steps, you will be able to manage to keep your food safe and edible when you are without power. It is a matter of preparation. One of the first and most important items you need to invest in is a good cooler. It should be at least a 52-quart cooler. If you have a large family, a larger one may be necessary. Another option is to also have one small one for things just being kept cool, like drinks, water, food that does not need a specific temperature to remain safe. The large one should be just for food. By having the small one for drinks, the food cooler will not be opened except when truly necessary.
A good cooler like Coleman and Igloo has been tested to be able to hold food cold definitely for up to 4 days in hot weather. They claim six days, but that is pushing it. Make sure the cooler has a drain to remove the melted ice. Also have an appliance thermometer to keep in your main cooler and freezer.
Before the hurricane, put a gallon bag into a rectangular container and fill with water, making sure you can zip it closed. Remember that water expands when it freezes, so allow space for this. You can reuse the container to make more blocks after the water is frozen in the first one. Luckily, hurricanes move slowly, so you should be able to make several blocks if you start right a way. Blocks of ice keep longer then cubes of ice. These homemade blocks should keep your food safe until relief efforts make ice available.
You can also fill the quart drink containers, as they will fit in the cooler corners nicely. Again, remember that water expands. If you are freezing store bought water bottles you will have to remove some before freezing.
Finding ice afterwards
During some recent storms, electricity was not restored for up to 2 weeks, so you will find yourself getting into a routine regarding ice. Relief efforts are usually in place in 2-4 days. The ice and staples they hand out are free, but there are long lines in a hot car, using precious gas. Some grocery stores have generators for certain areas of the store installed. It is mandatory for gas stations. Many drug stores also have generators for back up electricity, so getting ice regularly will not be that difficult if you want to pay for it. The local authorities try to watch out for price gouging.
Packing your cooler
Packing the cooler correctly can make a big difference in how long things stay cold. All food must be in watertight bags or containers. Any items that must be kept real cold should be put on the bottom with ice on top. Know where everything is so you can go right to it. A good practice to get into for the critical or main cooler is to have a thick towel folded and laying on top. Lift one half of the towel to get what you need. The towel is also extra insulation. The cooler must be kept full for best efficiency and the towel can help accomplish this.
Your refrigerator and freezer
Your refrigerator will not be that useful, unless you have a generator, but the freezer section is smaller, better insulated and can also be used as a cooler. Use it to store any extra blocks of ice that you made, putting a towel over the blocks. Open it a little as possible. If getting or purchasing ice is possible, any that does not fit in your cooler can be put in the freezer. If it is full, all will stay cold longer.
Food safety points to remember
Several points listed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) regarding food safety are:
• Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
• Never taste a food to determine its safety!
• If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
Cook meat as storm approaches
In many instances, people who have gone through hurricanes find it is best to cook up all the meat you have in your freezer. It will last much longer. Also, keep the cubes of ice, when used in the main cooler, in a bag and not loose. It works better that way. You can divide a store bought bag of ice into two smaller more efficient sizes.
Loose ice is okay in the drink cooler, just be aware that it will not keep as long. You also have to remember to drain the cooler periodically. A cool drink sure is refreshing when you do not have air-conditioning. Surviving a long period of power outage is not fun, but with preparation and a good routine, you can do it. Have some good camping recipes on hand. One pot meals are a necessity as water can be limited if you are on a well. Cold meals or leftovers are great when you do not have air conditioning.