Governor Mills Outlines Heating, Food & Other Safety Tips for Maine People Confronting Extended Power Outages

MEMA and Maine DHHS offer tips on generator and food safety, SNAP recipients can get help replacing lost food

As Maine continues to recover from Monday's storm, Governor Janet Mills is urging Maine people to take into consideration several heating, food and other safety recommendations as Maine people confront the impacts of prolonged power outages.

The recommendations come after the Maine CDC has received 16 reports of probable carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning resulting from eight separate incidents, all related to improper generator usage amid extended power outages. The poisonings were not fatal, but all resulted in emergency department visits.

The Governor is encouraging Maine people to follow these safety recommendations and others to protect themselves and others as temperatures become colder and Maine's electric utilities work to restore power.

"While power restoration efforts are progressing, there are still many people across Maine without power. If you are one of them, we want you to know there are important things that you can do to keep your family safe," said Governor Mills. "If you need a warm place to stay for the night, emergency shelters are available. If you are using a generator or another source of heat, please be extra cautious and know the steps you can take to protect your family. With rising reports of carbon monoxide poisoning, we want Maine people to take every necessary precaution. Maine people should also be mindful of perishable foods in refrigerators that are not running. I urge folks to review the following safety tips as our utilities work to restore power as quickly as possible."

"MEMA cares deeply about the health and safety of Maine people," said MEMA Director Pete Rogers. "I join with the Governor in strongly urging people to follow the safety tips as we make our way through this challenging time. Doing so can help protect you and your family."

"With power outages continuing across the state and temperatures dropping, it's imperative to keep safe through proper use of generators and minding food safety standards," said Maine CDC Director Dr. Puthiery Va. "Never run a generator inside, even if doors and windows are open, and keep an eye on food temperatures. If you need a place to get warm, charge up devices, get a shower or a hot cup of coffee, please visit one of the warming centers and check on your friends and neighbors who may benefit from some time in a safe, warm space."

How To Safely Use Gas-Powered Generators:

The Mills Administration – through the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) – is reminding residents how to safely use gas-powered generators in light of an increase in carbon monoxide poisonings.

Since Monday, the Maine CDC has received 16 reports of probable carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from eight separate incidents, all related to improper generator usage. The poisonings were not fatal, but all resulted in emergency department visits.

A single portable gas-powered generator can produce as much deadly CO gas as 100 idling cars. Using portable gas-powered generators can quickly cause CO poisoning when they are run in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed when burning most types of fuels. Warning signs of CO poisoning are similar to symptoms of the flu and can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion or altered mental status

Fever is not a symptom of CO poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death in a matter of minutes, depending on exposure. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC), hundreds of people die across the United States due to CO poisoning ever year.

If Maine people are using another alternative heat source, like electric space heaters, wood burning stoves, or kerosene heaters, they can find important safety tips here.

Some of those tips include the following: electric space heaters should always be carefully checked before use and monitored constantly while they are in use; only seasoned hardwoods should be burned in wood burning stoves, not trash or cardboard boxes, because these items burn unevenly, may contain toxins, and increase the risk of uncontrolled fires; and to always ventilate the room by slightly opening a window when using a kerosene heater.

For Maine people in need of a safe space to warm themselves and their families and charge devices, MEMA has a current and continuously updated list of warming centers available on its website. Please check the list of sites for specifics about the services that may be available at each location.

Other Tips for Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Power Outages

  • Place your generator outdoors. Keep your generator at least 20 feet from windows and doors. Do not put a generator in a closed or partly closed space, like a basement, cellar bulkhead, garage, or porch, even if doors and windows are open.

  • 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 battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near each sleeping area in your home. Look for the Underwriters Laboratory "UL certification" marked with the "Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm" statement.
  • Check CO detectors regularly to be sure they are functioning properly.
  • 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.

How To Avoid Foodborne Illnesses:

The Maine CDC also reminds Maine people to avoid foodborne illnesses during this period of prolonged power outages by monitoring the temperature of refrigerators and freezers and discarding any perishable food or beverages that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit(F) for two hours or more. Any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture should also be discarded.

Food Safety Tips During Power Outages

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to see if food is being stored at safe temperatures (40 degrees F) for the refrigerator; 0 degrees F for the freezer. Most foodborne illness is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees F.

  • Leave the freezer door closed. A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freezer 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 period of 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 four hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. A helpful 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 a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food stays at 40 degrees F or below.
  • 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.

How SNAP Recipients Can Replace Lost Food:

Maine people who lost food purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) due to the storm may be able to receive benefits to replace that food.

How to apply for SNAP benefits to replace lost food:

  • SNAP recipients who lost food purchased with SNAP benefits due to a power outage, flooding, or other misfortune related to the storm may be able to receive benefits to replace that food.
  • Losses must be reported to DHHS within 10 calendar days from when the food was lost or from when power is restored. DHHS is seeking approval from the federal government to extend this deadline.
  • SNAP recipients should fill out a simple form (PDF) available on the DHHS website at and email it to Paper forms are also available at local DHHS offices.
  • The replacement benefit amount is the lesser of the total value of the food purchased with SNAP that was lost, or one month's benefit.

How to Approach Tree Debris Removal from Personal Property:

Property owners often face the challenge of what to do with storm-damaged trees. To assist, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) and Maine Forest Service (MFS) offers valuable guidance and helpful tips to property owners with questions about handling downed trees, limbs, and branches.

For Trees and Branches Around Homes and Power Lines:

  • Homeowners are encouraged to promptly address downed trees and branches, especially those affecting homes and power lines.
  • For trees entangled with power lines, it is essential to contact local power companies for assistance. Even if a fallen limb is not near power or utility wires, it's advisable to rely on professionals to assess the extent of the damage before attempting repairs or removal.
  • For trees or large branches threatening or impacting homes or businesses, enlist the help of a reputable licensed arborist to take care of cleanup.

For Injured Trees Requiring Climbing or Chainsaw Work:

  • In cases where storm-damaged trees require climbing or chainsaw work, homeowners are urged to work with licensed arborists. Arborists are trained tree care professionals with the skills to evaluate and rectify storm-damaged trees. They can determine how much of a tree can or should be salvaged.
  • Beware of fly-by-night emergency tree-cutting services, and always request proof of licensing, insurance, and references. The Maine DACF Division of Animal and Plant Health Arborist Program provides more information about working with arborists.

To Protect Maine's Forests:

The Maine Forest Service stresses that woody debris from storm damage may harbor harmful insects or diseases that threaten our forests. Transporting this debris over long distances can unintentionally spread pests to new areas.

  • In addition to the risks it brings to our environment and economy, violation of rules governing debris movement jeopardizes eligibility for federal aid in the event of a disaster declaration.
  • Please be aware of quarantine regulations that may impact the movement of some woody storm debris, such as ash trees within the Emerald Ash Borer Regulated Area, larch from areas within the European Larch Canker quarantine, and hemlock branch or top material from regions within the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid quarantine.
  • Severe storms can also reveal the presence of invasive forest pests like the Asian longhorned beetle or hemlock woolly adelgid. If you suspect damage from such pests, take photos and share them with the MFS to aid in pest management efforts.