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Texas Storms Prompt Safety Tips, Consumer Alerts

Patch logo Patch 12/7/2018 Tony Cantu
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AUSTIN, TEXAS — As of early Friday evening, Austin residents have been spared from power outages that invariably result during strong thunderstorms. But with a continuing threat of heavy rains through the weekend, it's a good idea to have resources at the ready to determine energy status.

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As rain pelted the Central Texas region throughout the day Friday, Austin Energy officials alerted customers to its resources in staying apprised. "Widespread rain with some embedded thunderstorms are expected over the next few days," utility officials wrote on Twitter. "Make sure you stay informed with our tools."

Those tools are:

  • The Storm Center Outage Map shows the parts of the city where blackouts occur. Color bars on the map alert to the number of homes affected, from under 1,000 to multiple thousands. To view the map, click here.
  • Through its outage alerts feature, Austin Energy is able to let residents know of blackouts via their cell phones. "When you sign up to receive Outage Alerts from Austin Energy, you will be able to quickly and easily report outages and receive outage status updates using your mobile phone or device," officials wrote on Twitter. "Austin Energy will provide you with the best information available to keep you up-to-date so you can make plans."

Signing up for alerts on one's mobile device is a quick and easy process, Austin Energy officials added:

  1. Text REGISTER (or REG) to 287846 (the numbers associated with AUSTIN on a phone keypad). Para español envíe RGS por mensaje de texto a 287846.
  2. Enter the phone number associated with your account OR your City of Austin utilities account number when prompted. If you are texting from the phone number associated with your account, you'll skip this step.
  3. Enter your ZIP code.
  4. Enter Y (entre S en español) to agree to Austin Energy Outage Alert Terms and Conditions.

Related story:Central Texas Region Under Flash Flood Watch

In related news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued food safety recommendations to those impacted by the storms moving in through a wide swath of the southern United States, including Central Texas.

"Winter storms present the possibility of power outages and flooding that can compromise the safety of stored food," regulators explained. "Residents in the path of this storm should pay close attention to the forecast. FSIS officials outlined a series of steps consumers should take to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during this and other severe weather events.

Steps to follow in advance of losing power:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer—this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination from thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Food safety after a flood:

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water—this would include raw fruits and vegetables, cartons of milk or eggs.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or those with screw‐caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Flood waters can enter into any of these containers and contaminate the food inside. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home-canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
  • Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel‐type can opener.

Food safety during snow and ice storms:

During a snowstorm, do not place perishable food out in the snow. Outside temperatures can vary and food can be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals. Instead, make ice by filling buckets or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Use this ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS offiials created a YouTube video. “Food Safety During Power Outages” with instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. In addition, the publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage. FSIS also provides relevant food safety information during disasters on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety and Facebook.

Those with questions about food safety during severe weather, or any other food safety topics, can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888 MPHotline or chat live with a food safety specialist at These services are available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Answers to frequently asked question can also be found 24/7 at

The National Weather Service reports that a strong storm system crossing the Southwest early Friday morning will likely take a southerly track across the southern plains to the South and then to the southeastern U.S. coast through the weekend. The rain is expected to continue into early Saturday, with heavy rain forecast across southeast Texas.

Rainfall rates are expected to be high at times, NWS forecasters added, enhancing the threat of flooding. Central Texas continues under a flash flood watch through Saturday.

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