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I admit I ate the ice cream

Our power is out. Depending on your political persuasion, those words could have more than one meaning. In this case I’m referring to what happened in households across the nation over the past week. Winter storms and power losses reportedly hit 41 states.

Our power went missing at 10:30 Monday morning. A blustery winter storm was in progress — roads around us closed. It was 22 degrees with over six inches of crusted snow on the ground, which I later learned is perfect for storing a small duffel bag full of food items you want to protect from spoilage.

Food spoilage is a big deal during outages. Older adults have a greater tendency to get food poisoning. So, keeping foods that need to be stored in a 40-degree refrigerator safe from rapid bacteria growth is important. By the way, I’ve noticed more use of food “poisoning” than the previous “foodborne illness.” Take note of that if you are older than 65 and/or immune compromised.

Our power loss lasted all day and into that night. Nothing compared to what many people have experienced. And even with two emergency kits, loads of powerful battery-operated flashlights and two solar chargers, it unsettled us.

I had not realized the quiet hum of the refrigerator-freezer in our kitchen was so comforting. Nor did I totally understand my desire to open the refrigerator door and look for things — again and again. I think I was in a debate with myself over whether the vanilla custard ice cream in our freezer drawer needed to be enjoyed immediately, so as not to be thrown away later.

I know there are advantages to keeping your freezer completely full. A zero-degree freezer packed full of food will remain safe for 24 hours, and for 48 hours in a half-full freezer. In either case, safety is linked to the “keep the door closed” message, which I was having such a hard time observing.

I did eat the ice cream — not all of it, but a fair amount. Now that our power is back (and the outage was brief), that decision is hard to justify. Taking the quart of ice cream out meant the freezer was closer to half-full. I intend to use that defense if I need it.

Our power loss lasted 14 hours — and the magic number about how long refrigerated food can remain safe is four hours. I resurrected the specific reminders about what is salvageable food and what is not. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers had to go. We had some really lovely leftovers, so that was rather sad. But, good news — butter, mayonnaise and condiments are salvageable.

The day ended with a candlelight dinner and good conversation without television distractions or interruptive computer pings. As one aspect of our conversation, I asked my husband, “Tell me something I don’t know.” We got lost in that discussion, so he did not return my query, and I did not have to reveal to him that I had eaten the ice cream.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.