Impacted by blackout? Here's what you need to know
Passengers make their way to cars in the dark by walking across a bridge at San Diego International Airport.
September 9th, 2011
07:10 AM ET

Impacted by blackout? Here's what you need to know

The California ISO, the state's power grid operator, says nearly 5 million people in San Diego, Orange and Imperial counties may have been affected by a massive power outage.

By early Friday morning, power had been restored to 710,000 consumers in San Diego County, the utility said. Power was back on late Thursday for consumers in Arizona and California's Orange and Imperial counties. Millions, though, were still without power.

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.

If you are still om the critical 48 hours window from the time power has gone out there are still a few things you can do to preserve your food. Take a cooler and transfer any food you might want from the freezer or fridge to a cooler with ice or dry ice.

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. If you don't have dry ice to keep these items from going bad, consumption may leave you susceptible to illness from spoiled food.

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.

So what should you do if 48 hours has passed without ?

  • 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.

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

MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD

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.

CHEESE

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

DAIRY

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

FRUITS:

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.

SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS

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.

BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS

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.

PIES, PASTRY

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

VEGETABLES

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 (8 Responses)
  1. tim

    We hope your power will be back on soon. Maybe it will cool off some in a month or so. TOOO HOT this summer.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scottish Mama

    Oh I just love Worcestershire. So glad that it made the "to save" list during a blackout. I add a little vod ka and drink it right out of the bottle.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    There are some health benefits to your super liquid snack Scottish Mama. It is a power booster. It also thins the blood improving one's heart and vein health. I take a shot of this drink every morning before I drive to the gym. I will admit I sometimes take a double shot with my Worcestershire. Truly good for you.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. RUFFNUTT (ELF SLAYER & PURPLE KUSH SMOKER , )

    this is just the begining of the zobie uprising...

    September 9, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. REALLY

    OVERPOPULATION / SUPPLY & DEMAND & HOW OLD ARE GRIDS / I THINK SOLAR FLARES, GRID TO OLD OR OVERWORKED, TERREROISM, RULE THE FACTS OUT THATS A LOT OF PEOPLE & LETS GET THE PROBLEM ESTABLISHED. AMERICANS WANT THE TRUTH & YOU BET NO MATTER WHAT THE NEWS TELLS THEM THEY WILL CONVERSE BETWEEN ONE ANOTHER AND PIECE THE FACTS TOGETHER WE HAVE SOME PRETTY INTELLIGENT ORDINARY HUMAN BEINGS THAT HAVE A LOT OF TIME ON THEIR HANDS / BRAVO TO THE GREAT USA!

    September 9, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. JohnnyCat the Utility Worker Cat

    For commentary
    ADD

    TAKE Blankets or Sleeping Bag and throw them over the freezer
    and crawl under the blankets for short openings to get food:
    take a mental photo of what u have: dont teen-linger on door opening

    Place a chain and lock on the Generator :
    it will slow theives down// plan ahead and
    make a chain link "cage" around the generator

    generator have to be OUTSIDE, dont run them inside your attached
    GARAGE, the fumes will seep into the house somehow (for sure)

    Generator Transfer Switch: very cool techno thing however:
    follow the CUT OVER SWITCH procedure if you have the technology:
    this is where the Generator is already wired to a separate switch that allows
    you to switch "off the grid" and onto gas-powered generator

    even better:
    ask the GAS Company to hook your LNG type generator and Barbeque Grill to LNG
    with switch-cut-off valves
    this works wonders in the winter
    and it could save our Neighbors too

    piping GAS Generators to BOAT TANKS is MESSY but it helps
    during prolonged (5 week outage for one of my Friends
    and he had a house sump that had to be running 24/7!!)

    its better to shut down and refill with Jerry Cans
    watch the spillage! I burned up a good set of gloves
    when gas-fill-oversplash got onto the hot Muffler of Generator

    can your generator last 100 hrs? 200 hrs?
    or will it burn up?

    ?fill the bathtube if water pressure still exists:
    stop if the water looks contaminated/discolored
    most of the time you get 30 gals if the outage lasts 2 days
    that will work for boiling
    Red Cross is right on about boiling water, even if it looks and smells great

    BOTTLED WATER SUPPLY keeps Wife and Children happy
    Just four-five cases of 24//nothing to buy and store away

    Barbeque Grill becomes really important in prolonged outages
    the side burner one nearly burned up in 2003/August
    with so much use over the 5 days at the farm
    and
    LNG Tanks; fill them and keep them topped up
    >> nothing says dummy faster than empty propane tank and angry lookin Wife
    in this situation

    dont use your walkman/ipod/headphones while biking during
    outages: drivers/everyone looking elsewhere
    and not at cyclist during outages, so watch out –
    Bicycles were used by Power Utilities
    during the East Coast 2003 August outage to get around
    to the SwitchStations in big cities: it was faster than the traffic jam parking lots

    The great 1998 eastern ICE STORM and AUG 2003 Outage taught me these tips ;
    the list presented here is very very good;
    its really easy to get a 72-100 hour kit together

    Disaster Preparation is easy to do

    WHEN THE POWER GOES OUT,
    GO OUTSIDE AT NIGHT AND SEE THE STARS FOR THE FIRST TIME
    TALK TO NEIGHBORS
    !see! we can live without TV !\

    (but not too long without CNN or HLN of course)

    September 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gary

    Throw out: Fresh fruit ? What's up with that?

    September 10, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
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