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Preparing for a power outage and winter storm. Safe eating tips.

At any minute, I expect to lose electricity. The snow is drifting outside and coming down hard. Ice is on the way. Here's how I got ready for living without heat and electricity for several days. I hope this checklist can help you when a winter storm approaches. [Update: we only lost power for a few hours in 2014, but the first big storm of 2016, Jonas, is outside right now. I just packed the cooler shown below and am hoping for the best.]

cooler packed for winter storm

Plan for safety -- keep food out of the danger zone between 40˚ and 140˚F

  • Perishable food that's been in the danger zone for over four hours may cause food poisoning.
  • Put a day's worth of perishable food in a cooler with ice so you don't have to open the door of the refrigerator or freezer after you lose power. A container of frozen hummus will help keep other food cold. Take this cooler with you if you need to evacuate.
  • Plan a way to keep yourself from opening the refrigerator or freezer without thinking. Put a towel over the handle, tape it shut, or whatever works for your appliance.
  • Print out the FDA guidelines for safe food handling. You may remember them now, but printing them out will help you take the right action after days of stress.

Buy core necessities

Stay stocked up on these essentials if possible.

  • Prescription drugs and other medicines.
  • Paper products (toilet paper, etc.).
  • Batteries for your flashlights and emergency radio.
  • A manual can opener.
  • A food thermometer.
  • Gas for your car (at least a half tank to minimize skidding and to allow you to evacuate if needed).
  • Your idea of the essentials of civilization: contact lens solution, birth control, caffeine.
  • Paper plates, plastic cutlery, and paper towels in case you are without power for several days. I work my way through the daily cutlery and then the party ware, keeping used items in big plastic containers until the dishwasher works again. This is part of my Case for More.

Make sure you have enough easy-to-eat food to get you through to normal

Before the storm hits, stock up on:

  • Peanut butter, other nut butters, or sunflower seed butter.
  • Fruit and vegetables you can eat as-is: bananas, apples, pears, carrots, and broccoli.
  • Dried fruit.
  • Canned beans, tomatoes, vegetables, and juices if you don't have time to cook or if you think the situation may drag on past your ability to cook. Make sure you have a manual can opener.

If you can, prepare other food so it's easy to eat

I have lots of dried beans, uncooked grains, and baking ingredients, but they won't help much if I can't heat them. Here's how I got ready for the storm, with the activities need the longest lead time first.

Inspect your refrigerator and freezer

  • What food would you really hate to lose if you lost power? Why not eat it today? We had pesto for lunch and will have strawberry shortcake for dinner. I had the last of the peach butter that Barbara gave me for Christmas on my toast this morning. 
  • Throw out any food that is spoiled and take the trash out while you can still get to the trash can.
  • If you have time and the first question didn't turn up any wonderful finds, then make Stoup.
  • If you have time, fill the empty spaces in your freezer or refrigerator with containers of water pre-chilled outside or put into the refrigerator well in advance of losing power. (I use plastic jugs that held distilled water.) They will help keep the temperature low when the refrigerator is no longer running.

Relax and enjoy!

If you do lose power, take a deep breath. Enjoy the glimpse of times not so far in the past. Check in on neighbors and others who might need help. If the storm continues, share what you have. Some of my favorite neighborhood memories come from our group cookouts after Hurricane Fran hit. This time, maybe a neighbor with a generator will give me hot coffee in exchange for some pesto and cake!

How do you prepare for storms? What experiences might others learn from?

Please share in the comments below. Good luck!

Reader Comments (6)

Great list of tips! So far, so good, our power is still on

We filled up all our drinking water containers, recharged all our electronics and I baked bread, a cake and Boston Baked Beans. Also made a big pot of Butternut Bisque. Guess we're thinking along the same lines here.

I hope neither of us loses power. The stakes are so much higher here than they are when you lose power closer to the equator.

Feb 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterCamille

Camille, your Butternut Bisque sounds wonderful. You are so right about the stakes being higher here than near the equator -- the cold can be deadly. I've had some success this time trying to get ready but also to stay in the moment. I'm feeling deep gratitude for my working furnace and all who made it possible, the toaster, and the Internet. Hope you and Bob stay warm and happy!

Feb 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Watson

Good tips--thank you! I especially like the one about making use of a cooler. So sensible.

This was an impressive snowfall for my area. I'd say it's at least a foot of snow.

The main thing at my house is to be sure to have plenty of cat food stocked. If the cats ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. ;-)

Feb 13, 2014 | Registered Commenterchessie

So funny and so smart, Chessie! I was thinking about my cat this morning when I was reading this adorable Mutts comic strip. Gravy was relentless when she was hungry!

Hope you and your cats are happy!

Feb 14, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Watson

I keep my camping gear at home instead of stashing it in storage. This gives me a couple of non-electric options for cooking -- I have tiny propane grill, an alcohol stove for heating water, and emergency heaters. There's something about having a warm/hot meal that makes hunkering down more bearable.

Feb 15, 2014 | Registered Commentertink0233

Do not forget about the danger of cooking on a propane-butane stove: don't use it indoors since it produces the deadly carbon monoxide - a gas that's odourless and invisible. So move it outside (or as suggested in , use a carbon monoxide detector to know when the levels in your room are too high). That also goes for generator, do not keep it inside the house, not even in the garage.

Mar 11, 2014 | Registered Commenterjohnnyl
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