Power outages are more common in warm weather when use of air conditioning peaks and greater demands are placed on freezers and refrigerators.
Here are some tips to help you handle the next blackout:
--If you live in an area where blackouts are frequent, keep on hand emergency supplies of bottled water, canned and dehydrated foods, dry snacks such as cookies and crackers, a non-electric can opener and a camping stove with spare fuel.
--Store candles, matches, fresh batteries, flashlights and a battery-powered transistor radio in an accessible place known to all family members.
--If you receive advance warning of a storm that could disrupt power and water supplies, fill clean containers and bathtubs with water for drinking, cooking, washing and toilet flushing. (A pail of water poured into the toilet will flush it). Turn the refrigerator and freezer controls to the coldest setting.
--If a blackout occurs, take these precautions: Turn off or disconnect all motor-driven appliances and fixtures to avoid possible damage from both inadequate power or a sudden electrical surge when power is restored. Turn on a transistor radio and a lamp to alert you when service is restored.
--Keep lit candles away from drafts, flammable objects and children.
--A major problem in any blackout is keeping refrigerated and frozen foods from going bad. To keep spoilage and thawing to a minimum, open the refrigerator or freezer as seldom as possible during a blackout.
--If a freezer is full and tightly packed and the door is kept closed, food will stay frozen for up to 48 hours. Food in a partly filled freezer may keep for 24 hours.
--If food in the freezer does defrost, use it within one or two days. Never refreeze food that has thawed out completely.
--If you live in a rural area subject to periodic power failures, prepare your freezer for such emergencies:
Keep it loaded and packed tight. Fill empty spaces with reusable ice containers. Or fill empty milk containers about four-fifths full of water, cap the containers loosely and place them in the empty spaces.
Make sure the freezer-door gasket forms a tight seal. Test this by placing a dollar bill in various spots around the perimeter of the door. The gasket should hold the bill snugly when the door is shut.
Knowing What to Eat
After the blackout, how can you tell if your frozen or refrigerated food has gone bad? The rule of thumb is, "If in doubt, throw it out."
If something has an off-color or off-odor, get rid of it. Ice cream, sherbet, cream-filled cakes and cooked food that have thawed should be discarded. Uncooked food that still has ice crystals in it and is still cold (40 degrees or below) can be safely refrozen.
--If you cook with electricity, here are some suggestions for heating food when the power goes off:
A chafing dish is sufficient for low-heat cooking.
If you have a fireplace and cast-iron cookware, you can cook over an open fire.
You can cook on a camping stove (propane or gasoline). Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions and to cook outdoors in a well-ventilated area away from flammable objects. With a reflector oven, also available at camping goods stores, you can even do some simple baking.
A charcoal grill or hibachi can be used indoors, but only if you place it in a fireplace with a good updraft where the smoke and gases will be drawn up the chimney. Never burn charcoal in an enclosed area. Improper ventilation could be fatal.
--When power is restored, wait 10 minutes before turning on lights and appliances, one at a time.