Winter Precautions: Food & Heat Safety

By Shelly Aultman, LBSW
Social Worker
Seraaj Family Homes, Inc.

Across the U.S., many of us are receiving Winter Weather Advisory warnings; however, some of us only must deal with the average temperature decrease that winter brings. On Facebook the differences of what people are experiencing is apparent in posts like “Mother Nature must be a Disney fan because she sure is advertising the movie ‘Frozen’,” and “It definitely looks and feel likes a winter wonderland around here.” No matter your perception of winter, whether it seems like a wonderland or a frozen tundra, winter weather brings good and unpleasant things.

Two of my favorite winter things are hot coco and warm sweaters. However, winter also can bring my least favorite thing, which is a power outage. Below are a few safety tips in case of a power outage in your area, and a few tips to get us through this winter safety.

Food Safety

Power outages present problems with food safety, as well as with heating. If you have had a loss of power for more than four hours, take the following precautions with refrigerated food:

* Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

* Discard any potentially hazardous foods such as meats, eggs, dairy products and leftovers that may have exceeded 41°F.

* Frozen foods in a freezer can normally be kept up to 48 hours without power.

* A frozen product that has thawed should not be refrozen.

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Heating Safety

When temperatures fall and the power goes out, the possibility of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning increases. As an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas, CO is highly poisonous and is produced by the burning of fuel such as gasoline, natural gas, kerosene, charcoal or wood. Unvented or faulty gas and kerosene appliances have the greatest potential to produce dangerous levels of CO in a home. Smoldering or poorly vented fireplaces, slow-burning fuels such as charcoal and vehicle exhausts also are potential indoor hazards. Take these precautions:

* Don’t use an unvented gas or kerosene heater in closed spaces, especially in sleeping areas.

* Don’t use gas appliances such as an oven or clothes dryer to heat your home.

* Don’t burn charcoal inside of a house, garage, vehicle or tent for heating or cooking, even in a fireplace.

* Look for CO exposure symptoms including headache, dizziness, weakness, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting. These can progress into disorientation, coma, convulsions and death.

* If you suspect CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances, and go outside for fresh air. Dial 911 emergency medical services in severe cases.

* To prevent residential fires, make sure that heaters, stoves, and fireplaces are at least three feet from anything that burns.

* Use screens in front of fireplaces, and do not leave children alone with space heaters.

* Never leave candles burning when you are not at home or while you are sleeping.

* If a heater uses fuel like propane or kerosene, use only that kind of fuel and add more fuel only when the heater is cool.

* Store all fuels outside in closed metal containers.

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