This year has been making headlines for extreme weather all over the globe, from record breaking wildfires in western Canada and the United States to devastatingly strong Atlantic hurricanes. This past summer Australia saw 205 weather records broken. While 2016 was the warmest year on modern record, it’s looking like 2017 may be just as warm. You may be worried about extreme weather as a pumping mama.
With extreme weather comes power outages, either from winds and rain damaging power utilities, or from the power grid being strained while many people try to make their homes comfortable during extreme heat and cold temperatures. Depending on the cause and extent of the damage, power may be out for days. You may be worrying about how to best protect your freezer stash of breastmilk as well as all your other perishable foods and beverages in the event of a power outages. Pumpables has researched food safety methods and protective measures recommended by the FDA to help pumping mamas weather the storm…
Pack your freezer
A full freezer stays frozen longer. Pack your freezer with frozen veggies, fruit, meat, casseroles and liquids. Fill up zip lock bags and storage containers with water and freeze them. Fill unused milk storage bags and bottles with water and freeze them. Put ice cubes in bread bags. Pack every corner with frozen items and put the breastmilk in the center of it all so it stays frozen the longest!
Freeze refrigerated items
Not only will this help pack your freezer, but it will also keep your refrigerated items safe to consume for longer. Choose dense items like milk, juice, meat, and water bottles to freeze first (make sure you put meat on the bottom of the freezer in case it thaws, so you don’t risk contaminating your other foods). You can freeze things like soup, applesauce, and purees; you can also freeze condiments like ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing.
If a storm is in the forecast, purchase dry ice now and put it in your freezer right away. It will stay frozen longer and last for days longer than regular ice.
Consider a backup generator
If you have a lot of breastmilk in the freezer, consider investing in a backup power generator to power the freezer and charge your pump! This is also useful during outages in extreme cold, as most generators can power cooking surfaces and portable heaters too. Portable power generators for household use are available to purchase at hardware and appliance stores as well as most major online retailers.
Never open your freezer unless absolutely necessary
Last but not least, under no circumstances should you open your freezer during a power outage unless absolutely necessary. Your freezer is your best cooler, but every time it gets opened it loses a significant amount of cold air.
Tip: Place items you might need access to in easy to reach locations in the freezer, like the front or in the door. If you absolutely must access the freezer, you don’t want to leave the door open to dig around for a particular item. If you know you will need a specific item, we recommend keeping it separate from your breastmilk. You may consider a portable camp cooler with a block of dry ice to keep these items away from your frozen breastmilk, too, if you plan on using specific frozen foods in the coming days. Don’t move your breastmilk to a cooler because your freezer is the best, most reliable, long-term cooling location even without power.
Know if your breastmilk is still safe
During extended power outages even the best preventative measures can still leave you with a thawed freezer. It’s important to know how to tell if your breastmilk is safe to consume. If there are still ice particulates in the bags, then it’s safe to use or refreeze. If it’s completely thawed, then unfortunately there’s no way of knowing if it’s safe to drink (click here for detailed information on safe milk storage and storage duration). You can, however, use it for alternative uses such as milk baths, ointments, or soaps.
What if you have to evacuate?
If you have to evacuate and leave your freezer stash, you might be wondering how you would tell if the freezer had ever completely thawed if you’re unsure how long the power was out while you were gone. Freeze a plastic cup with some water. Before you leave, place a coin on top of ice in the frozen cup in the freezer. When you return, if the coin is embedded under the ice, it’s a good indication that power was out for long enough for the freezer to rise above freezing point for long enough for some things to melt, but not long enough for frozen items to liquefy completely (remember that any amount of ice in milk means it’s technically still frozen). If the coin has sunken to the bottom of the cup, then that means your breastmilk likely completely thawed. A coin on the bottom of the cup means that the ice melted completely.
Travelling with a cooler
If you’re travelling with a cooler, follow the same principles as the freezer: a full cooler stays cool longer, and never, ever open it unless absolutely necessary. Place your breastmilk on the bottom of the cooler because cool air sinks. Place other frozen items and ice packs on top of the breast milk. Fill open areas with crumpled newspaper to help keep things insulated; and, as soon as you get to your destination, get the breastmilk into the freezer as soon as possible. It may be worth calling ahead to where you are staying to make sure they can have a freezer ready for you in your room, or if you’re staying with family, so they can clear out some space.
Should flooding occur
If there is flooding it is very important to be vigilant when washing your pump parts and preparing food. Don’t eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. Flooding can contaminate the public water system due to rain waters overrunning the sewage system, and worse – septic tanks overflowing! We recommend always having a case of bottled water to use in the event of an emergency.
Disinfect water by boiling
If you don’t have bottled water, please always sterilise tap water during extreme flooding. To do so, bring the water to a boil and boil for at least 60 seconds. This sterilises the water and removes any bacteria that could have contaminated the water tap, making it safe to wash pumping parts, cook with, and drink. Store disinfected water in clean, sterile covered containers such as snaplock containers, pots, and pans.
Disinfecting with bleach
If you don’t have a source of heat, you can disinfect water with bleach. A small amount of bleach will kill some major disease causing organisms in water making it safe to drink, cook with, or clean pump parts.
- Add 1 cup of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per 5 gallons of drinking water.
- Stir well and let stand for 30 minutes prior to use.
- Store disinfected water in clean, sterile covered containers.
Tip: We recommend always having a backup cooking surface powered by propane, such as a camp stove, to ensure water can be sterilised and food can be heated should power go out for extended periods of time. This can double as a source of heat in winter, but be sure to always use propane powered devices in a well ventilated area away from flammable items and out of reach of children.
Washing your pump parts during a power outage
Be sure to always use clean, sterile water to wash your pump accessories during a power outage (for more information on how to sterilise water, please see the section above on flooding). To heat the water, if you have a power generator you can do so in a microwave. If you don’t have power and your stove top is gas powered you should still be able to use it (you may need to manually ignite it). If you don’t have gas appliances, you will need to find an alternative source of heat such as a camp stove powered by propane.
- Wash your hands.
- Heat the water and then let it cool to normal warm washing temperatures.
- Separate into two clean containers; one for washing with soap, and one for rinsing.
- Wash with soap in warm water, then move each piece to the rinse basin and submerge (you may wish to shake around the parts in the rinse basin to remove soapy residue from crevices).
- Rinse off again with sterile water (do not use the tap during extreme flooding. Use an unopened water bottle or sterilised water).
- Set out to air dry on a clean paper towel away from high traffic areas.
Tip: You may wish to sterilise your pump parts more frequently during extended power outages. You may do so by bringing clean, sterile water to a boil then soaking the pump parts in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to a manageable temperature. Then, use a clean sterile utensil to remove the pump parts and place them on a clean paper towel to air dry away from high traffic areas. Remember to never sterilise the tubing or pump motor.
Charging your pump during a power outage
It’s good to make sure your pump is fully charged if you’re anticipating interruptions in power. If you rely on your breast pump to feed your baby and maintain supply, we highly recommend investing in a power generator, external battery pack, or car adaptor to charge your pump during a power outage. If you live in climates prone to stormy weather and outages, we recommend investing in a pump with a rechargeable battery like the Milk Genie so you don’t have to worry about power interruptions while pumping. The Milk Genie has 2.5 hours of charge so many mamas find they can get several pumping sessions out of it between charges. You may also consider a manual pump to have on hand just in case of extreme weather emergencies.
Do you have any other pumping tips to help weather the storm? Let us know in the comments below!