Still without power? Here's what you need to know
Irene damaged power lines in Hampton Bays, New York, and left millions of people without power across the East Coast.
September 1st, 2011
11:58 AM ET

Still without power? Here's what you need to know

More than 1.7 million customers remained without electricity Wednesday from North Carolina to Maine as a result of Irene's wrath, the U.S. Department of Energy said.

As residents who are battling flooding and power outages enter another day without power, concerns about how they can stay connected and what they can eat and drink are becoming more of an issue.

If you haven't prepared a kit or stocked up with the appropriate foods, this is the time when things can start to get a little tricky.

So, what do you need to keep in mind during the power outage?

The big three things to focus on, according to the Red Cross, are your food, any electrical equipment, generators and being aware of carbon monoxide. Here are some tips from the FDA, USDA, CDC and The Red Cross on what to do.

Manage your electric equipment

  • Shut off, unplug unnecessary electrical equipment.
  • Shut off and disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes may damage the equipment.
  • Leave at least one light in the on position so you’ll know when the power comes back on.

When it comes to alternative power sources, beware of carbon monoxide

"The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire," the Red Cross warns. A few tips on how to make sure you avoid coming into contact with it:

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal­-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate units away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • If you have a carbon monoxide alarm  and it sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.

Maintain safe drinking water

The CDC says that when power is out some water purification systems may not fully function. Therefore, the best option for drinking, cooking and cleaning yourself includes bottled, boiled and treated water. Here are the CDC's rules when it comes to water in a power outage:

  • Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. If possible, use baby formula that does not require water.
  • Make sure bottled water comes from a safe source. If you are unsure you can always boil the bottled water. That is the best way to kill any possible harmful bacteria or parasites. Bring the water to a rolling boil for one minute and let stand before using.

Your food: What you can keep and what you should throw out

Your refrigerator will only keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened and a full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours, but only if the door remains closed. In this case, those without power have likely hit that threshold. If you don't have dry ice to keep these items from going bad, consumption may leave you susceptible to illness from spoiled food.

So what should you do now that the 48 hours has passed?

  • Eat non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer (if you prepared it with dry ice or put it in a cooler after the 48 hours).  If food in the freezer by chance is still colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it. If available put these items in a cooler with dry ice. (For a full list of what can be refrozen, read this USDA guide)
  • Keep all of your remaining "good" food in a dry cool area.
  • Throw away any food that was in your refrigerator or freezer and that has not been cooled using another device. If food has an unusual odor, color or texture, chuck it. The Red Cross warns "when in doubt, throw it out!"
  • Don't bother going through a taste test at this point. Even if foods may look and smell fine, if they have been stored at room temperature (because the power is no longer keeping your refrigerator or freezer cool) it can have bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can cook these bacteria off. For some foods, and some bacteria, the toxins cannot be destroyed by cooking.
  • If you're unsure whether the food you have has been exposed to temperatures over the 40° F safety threshold try taking it's temperature with a food thermometer. Any food that feels warm to the touch should also be thrown out.

Check, check, check for flooding

If you're one of the people who not only has to deal with power outages but flooding in your home, you'll need to be even more careful about the food you eat.

  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.
  • Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans.
  • For undamaged all-metal cans that you believe are safe, remove the labels and wash the cans with soap and hot water if you have it. Then boil the cans to eliminate bacteria.

The USDA also provides specific guidelines on what to do with specific foods. Here's the list for what food you should throw out if it has been in temperatures above 40 °F for more than 2 hours in a refrigerator:


Throw out: Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes; thawing meat or poultry; meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad; gravy, stuffing, broth;  lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef; pizza – with any topping ; canned hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated" or opened canned meats and fish.


Throw out: Soft cheeses like blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco; shredded cheese or low-fat cheese.

Save: Hard cheeses like cheddar, colby, Swiss, parmesan, provolone or Romano; processed cheese; grated parmesan or romano cheese


Throw out: Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk; open baby formula and all types of eggs, custards and puddings.


Throw out: Fresh fruit or cut fruit

Save: Fruit juices and canned fruits even if they are opened; coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits or dates.


Throw out: Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish or fish sauces (like oyster sauce); opened creamy-based dressings or opened spaghetti sauce.

Save: Peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles, Worcestershire, soy, barbecue or Hoisin sauces and opened vinegar-based dressings.


Throw out: Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough; cooked pasta, rice, potatoes; pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette; fresh pasta, cheesecake,

Save: Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, waffles, pancakes or bagels.


Throw out: Cream-filled pastries; custard,cheese filled, or chiffon pies
Save: Fruit pies


Throw out: Cooked vegetables; pre-cut, pre-washed or packaged greens;  tofu; opened vegetable juice, baked potatoes, commercial garlic in oil and potato salad.

Save: Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices; raw vegetables;

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Seriously

    You're posting an article, on the internet – to help people without electricity.

    Golf clap.

    September 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • CNN

      I was going to relay the message but my HP SmokeSignalJet said the ink expired last week.

      September 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • margaret

      @seriously. For those with generators or cell phones, this information might be helpful. Also, the part about when to throw out food is worthwhile even if your power has come back on.

      September 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vermont Resident

      @Seriously You are not part of the solution. You are part of the problem. Communications through the internet was a priority using battery and generator power. Your comment is about as useful as the trees and roots washed into the middle of our rivers and roads. Get out of the way.

      September 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    Golf clap.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    A bit like doing a visual presentation on the radio.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Wendy Harman

    This is Wendy from the American Red Cross. Thanks for posting this CNN. Good info for family and friends with power to relay to loved ones. Also, lots of people access CNN with smartphones.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kenny

    It still amazes me that no one mentions ice chest in all of these stories. That is the first thing you should have. Loboy coolers are made of eps foam and will keep ice for several days. They are inexpensive and very durable for a foam chest.The insulation quality for foam is second to none. That's why they are now building houses out of eps. I take one of these Loboy coolers with me camping. Ice in them Wednesday and we dumped ice out Sunday. This in Florida with 97 degree temps with 90% humidity. Red cross and national gaurd pass out ice. Doesn't do much good if you don't have a good chest to put it in.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vermont Resident

      Agreed. And freezing battles of water ahead of time stores both the ice and the water (half the weight and space). Remove the caps and pour out a bit of water from each bottle first, replace the cap, and freeze them all. Ice expands.

      September 1, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JayP

    "If you have a carbon monoxide alarm and it sounds, "

    Most don't work without power & battery backup dies shortly there after....

    ALWAYS operate fuel sourced equipment outdoors – PERIOD!
    And NEVER plug or wire a generator into your electric panel, you can electrocute utility crews that are working out on the street by backfeed the street from your generator!

    September 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • nkrempa

      If you have your generator wired to your electrical box, you MUST SHUT OFF YOUR MAIN BREAKER!!!

      You CAN have a hardwired generator, but you must be able to shut off the main. Doing so prevents any possibility of backfeed from your generator to the power lines and safeguards utility crews.

      September 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JayP

    National Grid sucks period!
    They get worse every year, every storm.
    It's a disgrace what they have done to the grid.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. OK

    Eat non perishable foods and staples ?

    September 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Francisco

    HI Wendy. We love your cheeseburgers and frosties. That Dave Thomas is the best. Could you send us some burgers and fries?

    September 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. doodoo delight

    Remember that doodoo taste best at room temperature.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. justathought

    How many people without power are going to read this? Sometimes I wonder if Highschool drop-outs are just a little bit more intelligent than this? Like: closeing the barn door after the horse gets out.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zakia103

      It's obvious that those without power cannot read these postings. but suggestions for those that can read them may benefit, should they be faced with a similar situation in the future. Jeeze.........

      September 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jose'

    Also remember everyone needs to be very careful when using propane heaters. These ususlly are not recommended for indoor use. Make sure you have proper ventillation.

    September 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |

    Also remember to call the company to tell them your electricity is out. It is better to call them on an hourly basis if you can. This will remind them of the urgency and sometimes move you to the top of their outage priority list.

    September 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |

    Sorry- i meant you should call your power or electric company as frequently as possible. Be sure to ask to speak with the SERVICE DEPARTMENT COORDINATOR or DIRECTOR OF CUSTOMER SERVICE. Speaking with this person will often speed up getting your power back on. Tell them you are a priority customer and insist they get the electricity back on immediatly. Often times being stern and insisting on immediate repairs helps.

    September 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Zakia103

    In the days leading up to the storm, I froze containers, empty soda & milk bottles of water, as many as my freezer could hold. I lost power early Saturday evening and it was not restored until Monday evening. Over the 47 hours without electric, I transferred the frozen containers to my refrigerator to keep my foods cold. Nothing spoiled, even the butter did not even soften one bit. Only thing I had to discard was a container of ice cream. Careful planning saved me alot of $$ in groceries.

    September 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unrepentant Westerner


      That's an excellent idea.

      September 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
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