Wednesday, 25 April 2012

April Things

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Lights out!

So you have the benefit of a freezer full of wonderful pasture raised meat you bought from a local farmer.  The comfortable feeling of knowing your freezer is full of good food for the year and maybe even a few special cuts for the holidays.  Nice feeling eh?

Right up until the power goes out of course. Then it's freak out show and you know it's all going to end it tears.

If you have a generator you are allowed to look smug at this point as long as you remember to not start it up inside your house.  Hook it up to the freezer and see if your neighbour needs to run a couple hundred feet of extension cord to it as well.  Well done - you can go read something interesting instead.

If not, don't Panic. 

You've got a minimum of 24 hours no matter what so you have plenty of time to read this entire blog post and get some snacks, just don't open the freezer ok?

You might be able to borrow or rent a generator.  Depending on how often this happens and how much meat you keep on hand, it might be worth it to buy a generator.

I once went three days without power with a chest freezer full of beef and pork and zero dry ice.  At the three day mark I moved all the food into another freezer at my parents house.  We lost some frozen peppers to bad freezer burn, but all the meat was fine.

Call the power company so they know your address is included in the power outage.

How long before you have to worry?
Chest Freezer: 24 - 48 hours is likely, 72 is possible.
Upright: 24 hours for sure, 48 depending on other factors.  Ours thawed totally by 24 hours which is why we got rid of it. 
Refrigerator: 24 hours but you may still end up throwing stuff out.  It depends - the rules will be different for a lot of stuff.  Produce is remarkably resilient though - if it looks and smells ok it is.

For either freezer type you will want to leave it alone - don't open it.  Especially the upright.  You've got time.  Really - your food isn't lonely or scared.  Let it be.

Get a meat thermometer like the one pictured that reads low temps as well as high ones.  USDA guidelines say to throw out (or cook) foods that have been at higher than 40 degrees for more than two hours (I think that's overkill, but it's a guideline) - as long as it's not to 40 you can safely refreeze anything. You don't want to guess though - you'll waste a lot of food unnecessarily.

At the 24 hour mark get your thermometer and open the freezer.  Know exactly what you are going to do before hand - keep it short.  This is a quick gauge of the situation, not a detailed one.  Hot air rises - check the food on the top first.  It should still be frozen, or at least mostly frozen.  If it's thawed take the temp so you can get a feel for how much time you have, but you already know you're going to need dry ice soon.  If the stuff at the top is frozen solid so is the stuff at the bottom.  If you don't have much bunch the food together.  If it's easy to get at, remove any ice cream boxes that might leak - ice cream is probably doomed at this point, and it'll save you a mess.  Any meat that is leaking you should remove and cook.  If you have an upright with an ice maker get the ice out now - it's going to turn into water and that will make things worse.

So we're at the 24 hour mark.  If you have an upright you probably need dry ice now.  If you have a chest freezer you can probably wait a day maybe two depending on how your inspection went.   The problem here is that everyone else is at the same point you are, so dry ice may be harder to find.   Call the local grocery store for dry ice. If they don't have it start calling the grocery stores in small towns nearby - rural folks use this more often than city folks.  Get some - it's about 1$ per pound.

Dry ice is going to dissipate at a rate of 5 -10 pounds every 24 hours.  In the meantime, it's going to keep your food cold enough to save.

This link has good data on dry ice -

From that link -

For each 24-hour period:

(1) Freezer on bottom:
use 15 to 25 pounds.
(2) Freezer on top: use 20 to 30 pounds.
(3) Side by side Freezer: use 30 to 40 pounds. Place each slab, starting with the top shelf, on top of the food to be kept frozen. Bottom shelves will be kept frozen by the Dry Ice above it.
(4) Chest Freezer: use 40 to 50 pounds. When taking out the frozen food, carefully lift the dry ice slab up with gloves, potholder, towel, etc., without touching the dry ice directly.

I think that's overkill, but best to start with that and see how it's going 24 hours later and gauge how much to buy again then.

At the 48 hour mark repeat what you did at the 24 hour mark.  More carefully this time.  Feel around the packages - what is thawing?  If it still has a frozen core that's fine - if it's totally thawed you probably need to start adding dry ice if you haven't already, or step up the amount.

If it's approaching 40 degrees you need to buy charcoal : ).  That's not entirely facetious - once cooked if you can keep it at refrigerator temps you can re-freeze it within 3-4 days (again, that's a USDA guideline).  It's easier to keep food at that temp and it buys you a lot of time, but you'll need a lot of dry ice (or regular ice in coolers) to cool the food down.

Lastly, read this -

That's the USDA freezer safety guidelines - they are sensible.  There is a section on freezer emergencies.

Worst case, your insurance company (home owners policy) may cover losses of food due to power outage - call them and check if you get to that point.

This isn't helpful now, but in the future unless you have a disability that makes getting into a chest freezer impossible or impractical, buy a chest freezer, not an upright.

We always recommend a chest freezer.  If you have one you now know why.  An upright will lose all the cold air every time it's opened - the chest freezer won't.  A chest freezer is also less likely to break since they don't automatically defrost.  On an upright there are a few components that can go bad on the defrost cycle that will cause the freezer to stop working - not cool (heh...get it?).  A chest freezer door that's left open isn't a big deal at all - shut the upright wrong and you just lost all your food overnight.  To top off the list of benefits, a chest freezer is a lot cheaper.  Yes - it's harder to keep organized - if you have a significant investment that trade off is worth it.

A chest freezer will keep your meat good for 24 hours minimum, but 48 hours is likely and 72 hours is possible - it all depends on the freezer, the temperature of the air around it, and how full the freezer is.  It's best to keep the freezer mostly full - all that frozen stuff acts as it's own cooling mechanism if the power goes out.  This is true for an upright as well, but an upright just won't hold the cold as well - if you don't open it you can go 24 hours, maybe 48, but not in my experience. That's the ultimate reason we got rid of ours.

Good luck!