We don't get hit by many hurricanes in Maryland but the last time that we did, we lost power for 5 days. And, being a 20-something new grad living in her first apartment (with a very limited budget), I vividly remember the most devastating thing about it: Everything—a.k.a all the frozen pizza and Ben & Jerry's that I survived off of—went bad.
And while I was well aware that none of my food was okay to eat (since I stayed home), people who evacuate their homes during severe storms may not know if or how long the power was out. And that means they won't know whether their food has spoiled—unless they use this woman's brilliant tip that has gone viral on Facebook.
How to tell if your food is safe to eat after you lose power
Sheila's hack is super simple: All you have to do is freeze a cup of water, then put it in the refrigerator with a quarter on top of it before you leave your home. We asked our senior lab testing technician, Jon Chan, to explain the logic behind what he calls a tried-and-true method. "If the quarter is on top, you're fine, but if it's more than half an inch down, your food has been exposed to warm temperatures for a prolonged period of time," he says.
Does the "quarter on a cup" method work?
According to Jon, who calls it both reliable and smart, yes. "If you leave your home and return, you do not have any indication of how long a power outage has lasted, only that one has occurred," he explains, adding, "This is a good trick not just for storm season, but for whenever you leave your house for more than a few days."
Of course, Jon also notes that when in doubt, always throw food out just to be safe. A.k.a if you aren't sure if the power went out—and that your food may have refrozen without you realizing—err on the side of caution to avoid eating potentially spoiled food.
Other tips to keep your food safe during a power outage
Jon's best—and easiest—advice? "Keep the door to the fridge closed as much as possible," he says. "Fridges are designed to be well insulated. The vast majority of fridges we test are able to keep a safe temperature for over 48 hours if the door remains closed."
And speaking of your refrigerator's temperature, follow this rule of thumb from the USDA: They recommend that you throw away dairy products, meats, fish, soft cheeses, or cooked vegetables if they're kept at 40 degrees or warmer for more than two hours.