AUGUSTA – With widespread power outages expected to last a few days following the recent storm, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding residents how to safely use portable gas-powered generators and providing food safety tips.
A single portable gas-powered generator can produce as much deadly carbon monoxide (CO) gas as 100 idling cars. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed when burning most types of fuels. Using portable gas-powered generators can cause poisoning if CO builds up in closed in spaces. Warning signs of CO poisoning are flu like symptoms including headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death. Every year, more than 200 people die in the U.S. due to CO poisoning.
To avoid food borne illnesses, residents should monitor the temperature of their refrigerators and freezers and discard any perishable food or beverages that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Power Outages:
- Place your generator outdoors in the fresh air. Keep it at least 15 feet from windows or doors. Do not put a generator in a closed or partly closed space, like a basement, cellar bulkhead, or attached garage. Carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels in these spaces.
- Follow the safety instructions for operating your portable generator.
- Do not use outdoor cooking devices indoors like gas or charcoal grills and gas camp stoves.
- Place a carbon monoxide detector that is battery powered (or has battery back-up power) in the hallway outside each sleeping area. Be sure Underwriters Laboratory certifies the CO detector. Look for the UL mark with the “Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm” statement. CO detectors are in most stores.
- If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, leave the house at once, call 911, and do not go back into the building until the fire department tells you it is safe.
Food Safety Tips During Power Outages:
- Leave the freezer door closed. A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freeze for about one day. Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. You can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals or feel cold and solid to the touch.
- Refrigerated items should be safe as long as the power is out no more than about four to six hours. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. The general rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.”
- Leave the refrigerator door closed as much as possible. Every time you open it, cold air escapes and the temperature rises. If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.
- Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to see if food is being stored at safe temperatures (40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for the refrigerator; 0 degrees F for the freezer. Most food borne illness is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees F.
- Never taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they’ve been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria can multiply very rapidly. Some types will produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking and could make you sick.