Snow storms can be dangerous — and not just because of the cold and wind.
Power outages can turn your fridge into a bacterial free-for-all.
USA TODAY talked to food safety experts for tips to avoid getting sick, before light go out or after they come back on.
BEFORE THE BLACKOUT
Pack extra ice into your freezer or refrigerator to keep the temperature as low as possible, according to foodsafety.gov, produced by the Department of Health and Human Services. Make sure that your freezer and refrigerator have a thermometer.
Food in the refrigerator should be kept below 40 degrees, while food in the freezer should be no warmer than 0 degrees.
DURING THE BLACKOUT
Keep the refrigerator door closed as long as possible to trap in the cold. With the door closed, your fridge will keep food cold for about 2 hours. A full freezer will keep its temperature about 48 hours; a half-full freezer will maintain its temperature for 24 hours. If your freezer isn't full, group foods as closely together as possible.
Place meat or poultry on a tray, or to one side, so that they won't drip on other items (and contaminate them) if they thaw out, according to foodsafety.gov.
WHEN THE POWER COMES BACK ON
How can you tell if your food is safe to eat?
Two of your most important tools are a clock and a food thermometer, said Ben Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, who posted some tips on barfblog.com.
Check the clock when your power goes out and write down the time. Modern refrigerators (ones built within the last two decades) can keep food cold a long time, even without electricity.
Throw away any perishable food (meat, poultry, milk, seafood or eggs) whose temperatures have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more, according to foodsafety.gov.
Toss any suspect food — items whose color, odor or texture doesn't seem right. Throw out anything that has come in contact with raw meat juices.
Obviously, food in the fridge shouldn't be warm. If it is, toss it in the trash. Tasting food is not a safe way to tell if it's spoiled. When in doubt, throw it out.
Frozen food should be checked for ice crystals. You can safely refreeze thawed food if it still contains ice crystals, or if it's 40 degrees or below, according to foodsafety.gov.
Some food poses a higher risk than others. Bacteria is more likely to grow on meats, eggs, sliced melons and tomatoes, sprouts, soft cheese and milk, Chapman said.
Uncut fruit, such as apples and oranges, can be stored outside the fridge. Breads, cookies, muffins, hard cheeses, salad dressing and cakes without cream or custard are also pretty safe, he said.
In a snowstorm, your porch can serve as an extra freezer, Chapman said. You can store food in a cooler outside, as long as you test the temperature. Even if there's snow on the ground, food stored in a sunny spot can get too warm.
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