Winter storms hit many parts of the country last week, even bringing unusual ice and snow to places in the midwest and south. With power and water outages, people have been forced to look for other ways to stay warm and keep food fresh. But, the USDA is warning against putting food out in the snow to keep it cold because it can be dangerous.
Without power, a full freezer can keep its temperature for about 48 hours if it isn't opened, the USDA says. A refrigerator can stay cold for only about 4 hours if unopened. It's best to have a backup plan in case of emergencies, but taking food outside, even if in coolers, should not be one. Even during winter storms, food stored outside can spoil because of temperature fluctuations (the sun can heat coolers even if they stay closed). They also run the risk of being picking up germs in unsanitary conditions or be exposed to animals. Instead of leaving perishable frozen and refrigerated items outside if the power is out, the USDA just offered a cleaner, safer, and easier solution. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)
It suggests filling things like empty buckets, milk cartons, or cans with water and leaving them outside to freeze, then putting them in the refrigerator, freezer, or coolers inside.
A full list of refrigerated and frozen foods—and when it's safe to re-chill or freeze them versus when they should be discarded—can be found here.
For more on the severe conditions that hit places like Texas last week, here's why Walmart shut down hundreds of stores and how residents flocked to this grocery store for comfort. To get all the latest food safety news delivered right to your email inbox every day, sign up for our newsletter!