Don't Put Your Food Outside in the Winter, USDA Says

When a winter storm rolls in and knocks out your power it can be debilitating, especially if you've just bought a week's worth of groceries and a full freezer. The fridge is getting warmer, but it's a chilly 17 degrees outside. So your food would stay cold if you put it outside, right? Not quite. According to the USDA when it comes to food safety, perishable food should not be moved to cold temperatures outside during a power outage. In fact, it'll do more harm than good.

Putting Food Outside in Winter Isn't a Good Idea

Last year, winter storm Uri caused millions of Texans to lose power, heat, and safe water. The snowstorm caused the outdoor temperature to drop in the teens, making it unbearable for many Texans to keep warm. No heat, water, or electricity is a recipe for disaster, no matter who you are.

According to the USDA, even if the cold weather outside is considered freezing temperatures, there are still a lot of factors that can harm your food. The sun's rays can still thaw your food and the outside temperature can fluctuate throughout the day, causing the food to enter the danger zone. Leaving food out can also expose it to unsanitary conditions and even wild animals.

The best way to keep your food safe to eat during blackouts is to simply keep the door shut. While the power may be off, refrigerators can keep their refrigeration temperature out of the danger zone for about four hours. For freezers, it's about 48 hours. After that, the food will start thawing and enter the danger zone, which is the breeding ground for foodborne illness.

Karen Blakeslee, food scientist at K-State, shares. "As long as the temperature inside the appliance stays below 40 degrees F, the food will be safe."

What You Should Do Instead of Putting Food Outside in Winter 

To prevent frozen food from thawing add dry ice to keep the food cold. But if you can't leave the house, use the winter weather to your advantage and make ice to help store food in your fridge. Fill up empty cartons and bags with water and set them outside to make large ice cubes to keep your food cold.

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This post was originally published on February 19, 2021.

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