No matter where you live, you’re never safe from losing power. And every year, the weather gets worse. Hurricanes keep getting more severe, half the country is encased in ice every winter, the entire West Coast is on fire — you know the drill. Thankfully, someone came up with a simple life hack that makes losing power a little less crappy. Just leave a frozen cup of water in the freezer and put a quarter on top.
In the age of the internet, having no power is the worst. You can only do so much on your phone, and once that runs out of battery, you’re screwed. You’re better off leaving for the day and hanging out somewhere with the lights on. Also, if there is a hurricane coming, please evacuate.
The problem with leaving your home during a storm is that if your power does go out, you have no way of knowing how long it was off. This can be a problem when you have food in the freezer. Did it defrost? How long was it sitting in there getting gross? Do you throw it out or risk food poisoning?
So what does this have to do with a quarter on top of a cup of ice? Just ask Sheila Pulanco Russell, who passed on a simple and ingenious life hack to save you from the frozen food dilemma.
“You put a cup of water in your freezer,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Freeze it solid and then put a quarter on top of it and leave it in your freezer. That way when you come back after you’ve been evacuated you can tell if your food went completely bad and just refroze or if it stayed frozen while you were gone.”
How does that even work, you ask? Think about it. If the power goes off, the ice in the cup will melt because the freezer is no longer working. As the ice melts, the quarter will sink lower and lower inside the cup.
“If the quarter has fallen to the bottom of the cup that means all the food defrosted and you should throw it out,” says Sheila. “But if the quarter is either on the top or in the middle of the cup then your food may still be ok.”
Why didn’t we think of that?
This year, entire regions of the middle East Coast had to evacuate their homes due to Hurricane Florence. Some people were able to eat what was in their freezers or move it to other locations before the storm arrived. However, not everyone had that luxury.
Hurricanes start out in the ocean or other large bodies of water, so there’s plenty of warning for people right in a hurricane’s path. However, the path of a hurricane can suddenly change. There are also other natural disasters that come with very little warning, or no warning at all.
If you have to evacuate or can’t be home all day and the power might go out, this is such a simple thing you can do to prevent a very common concern. The only problem is that you will have to wait for the cup of water to freeze. This might work with ice cubes that you already have frozen, but you’d have to be able to stuff the cup really tightly so that the coin doesn’t slip down through any cracks.
If you’re not sure if your freezer food is still safe when your power does go out, the University of Wisconsin put out a handy guide to food safety in the event of a power outage. According to the guide, any freezer food that still contains ice crystals can be safely refrozen and eaten later. Otherwise, you might have to toss it.
If your freezer is full and the door remains shut, the food inside should remain frozen for about two days. If it’s only half full, it will usually defrost in a single day. Once perishable foods like milk and meats reach temperatures of above 40 degrees F, you have two hours to cook them before they start to go bad.
Other foods like butter, fruit, and certain condiments will be fine at room temperature for a couple days. Just make sure to check them for signs of mold, yeast, or other nastiness before you eat them.
The University of Wisconsin also recommends eating the perishable food in your refrigerator first if you’re trying to avoid wasting it. Refrigerated food is going to reach room temperature long before frozen food does when the power goes out, even if you keep both doors shut as much as possible.
Regardless, if the quarter is at the bottom of the cup and you’re unsure if your food is safe or not, your best bet is to throw it out. Always err on the side of caution with potential food spoilage. Food poisoning is not worth saving a few dollars. Trust me.
Also keep in mind that how fast a cup of ice will melt depends on a number of factors, including how big the cup is and the quality of your freezer. Because of this, Snopes actually ranked this life hack to be “mostly false” based on the faulty assumption that “if the ice doesn’t melt completely, your food will be fine.”
Basically, this hack is handy, but don’t count on it like it’s a USDA health officer who stood by your freezer during the entire storm. Be smart, be safe, and throw out anything suspicious.