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How to stock your fridge and pantry for a possible power outage

Shelf-stable milks are a good option to have on hand in case of a power outage.
Jo Zimny
via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Shelf-stable milks are a good option to have on hand in case of a power outage.

An Arctic blast set to hit Texas has prompted many people to plan that trip to the grocery store to stock up on supplies — just in case. And though the weather is not predicted to get anywhere near as bad as Winter Storm Uri in 2021 or the ice storms of 2023, there’s no harm in thinking ahead.

So in case the power does go out, we’ve got some tips about food and food safety from Trisha Calvo, deputy editor for health and food at Consumer Reports. She shared no-cook recipes, perfect fruits and veggies for the counter, and how to keep your freezer as cold as possible for as long as possible.

How long can food items last in a refrigerator when the power goes out?

If you keep the door closed most of the time, food will stay at a safe temperature — below 40 degrees — for about four hours in a refrigerator, Calvo said. Food will stay cold for 48 hours in a full freezer and 24 hours in a half-full freezer.

“So if you’ve got a half-full freezer but you’ve got some things that you definitely don’t want to lose, and you expect that you may be out of power longer than a day, you might want to fill some containers with water and freeze them and put them in your freezer to kind of like, bulk up what you’ve got in there, and that can help it stay colder for a whole other day,” she said.

Can I store perishables outside if the temperature is colder than inside my refrigerator?

That’s not the best move from a food safety perspective for a number of reasons, Calvo said: First of all, temperatures can fluctuate, and if the temperature of the food gets above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and stays there for two hours, it can pose a food safety risk.

“40 degrees is where what’s called the ‘danger zone’ begins,” she said. “Bacteria that cause foodborne illness (such as salmonella or E. coli), if present in the food, can grow rapidly in food held between 40 degrees and 140 degrees for two hours or longer.”

Another factor is sunlight, which can warm up a food quickly even if the air temperature is cold, she said.

Lastly, animals could be attracted to the food and contaminate it with bacteria or diseases.

» MORE: How to care for your trees before and after the winter storm

What kinds of items can last outside a refrigerator at room temperature?

Foods like bread, butter, fresh fruit and vegetables, jelly and hard cheeses — like cheddar and parmesan — can stay at room temperature for quite a while safely, Calvo said. She recommends stocking up on fruits and veggies that you can eat raw, such as:

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Citrus fruit
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Green beans
  • Peppers
  • Snap peas
  • Tomatoes

“Particularly if the power is going to be out for a while, it’s nice to have some fresh fruit and vegetables because, you know, peanut butter and jelly gets a little old after a while,” she said.

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What other foods are recommended to have in stock?

Calvo suggests options like:

  • Low-sodium canned beans
  • Vegetables and fruits packed in juice in cans
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Nut butters
  • Bread
  • Pouches of fully cooked whole grains, which can be eaten cold or at room temperature
  • Nuts
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Shelf-stable milk or plant milk (the kind sold in aseptic boxes) in smaller containers, because they need to be refrigerated after opening

“Another great idea, if you know the storm is coming, is to think about like, ‘OK, what leftovers do I have in my fridge? Do I have that roast or that beef stew that’s frozen in my freezer? And would it be a good time to now cook it and eat it?” she said. “So that way you’re using up those foods that, you know, if the power’s out for a long time, might go bad.”

What are some easy food combos or recipe options?

Overnight oats — rolled oats mixed with some water — can sit out overnight without being refrigerated, Calvo said. Add nut butter, raisins, dried fruit, a little cinnamon or fresh fruit in the morning.

Apple and white bean salad: Rinse and drain a can of white beans, like cannellini, and toss with some olive oil and apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Add chunks of apple, celery or scallions if you have them, and some thyme, walnuts or any other nut you’ve got on hand, and a little salt and pepper.

“That can be used as just like a bowl dish,” Calvo said. “Or you can put that on bread and have it as a sandwich, if you like, or stuffed into a tortilla or a pita.”

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Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her:
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