How California grocery stores are handling the power outages

Illustration for article titled How California grocery stores are handling the power outages
Photo: nikkytok (iStock)

Pacific Gas & Electricity cut power to 800,000 of its customers in Northern California on Wednesday in order to lessen the risk of wildfires sparked by downed power lines during the Santa Ana winds. These customers include grocery stores stocked with perishable foods. The Times-Standard in Humboldt, California, checked in with several grocers and food pantries to learn how they handled the outage.

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North Coast Co-op in Arcata has standard emergency procedures, but those are for outages lasting four to six hours, the general manager, Melanie Bettenhausen, told the Times-Standard, and no one knew how long the outage would last. The store also didn’t get enough advance notice from the power company to secure a refrigerated truck. Bettenhausen said the choice was either to shut down the store and hope the power came back on before everything got too warm to sell or to mark everything down drastically and get it off the shelves. Grocery Dive reports many California grocery stores do have small generators capable of powering their lights and registers, but demand is high for rental generators that can keep refrigerators and freezers running.

The co-op went with option two. It did a ton of business, but it didn’t turn a profit since everything was 50% off. Still, the food didn’t go to waste, and Bettenhausen hopes the store brought in enough goodwill to bring customers back.

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The Times-Standard also talked to Food for People, a nonprofit that provides food through a community pantry and other programs. Anne Holcombe, the executive director, said she was able to get 500 pounds of dry ice to preserve the holiday turkeys that had been delivered last Friday and secure a generator for the food pantry. The nonprofit also donated 75 dozen eggs to the Eureka Rescue Mission. Still, they lost 45 pounds of meat and 395 dozen eggs. Holcombe is now concerned about her clients on food stamps who do most of their shopping at the beginning of the month when their benefits come in.

As of this morning, 300,000 PG&E customers remain without electricity. The winds are now moving down toward Southern California, where the electric company has already started cutting power.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

blackoutapocalypse2019
blackoutapocalypse2019

Created a burner account so I could tell my tale without doxing myself because this is where I live!!

I work in a restaurant in Arcata, and we didn’t even get a regular phone call from PG&E until the middle of the afternoon, and even then they were only saying “maybe.” They also refused to give us a definitive timeline, I heard 36 hours the most often, but word was that it could be 3-5 days (It turned out to be roughly 24 hours here, but I know that’s not the case for everyone). My boss was understandably extremely upset, we try to work with fresh produce and fresh ingredients as much as possible, so we were forced to throw away a ridiculous amount of food. How do you make judgement calls on how long celery is going to last unrefrigerated if you don’t know if the power’s coming back on tonight or if you’ll be out power for a week? I know we weren’t the only ones. I biked around town a bit to see what was open (both bookstores were open!) and check in on friends. A few bars stayed open, one with a generator, and one just by lantern light (Hey, bars have existed far longer than electricity!).

Honestly, the night before was probably worse chaos than the day of. Everyone rushed the gas stations, with some stations putting caps on how much individuals could take out for their generators. People cleared out all the water bottles, fearing that the power outage would last over the three days mark, at which point the reservoir would stop being able to pump out water (although emergency notice from the county pointed out that the sewage would be a problem far earlier). Personally we have a gas range at my house, so I went home with a bunch of food from work and was getting ready to cook rice and as many eggs as I could eat before they went bad.

It seems folks around here are setting the blame at PG&E’s feet for not doing more to upgrade their equipment to ensure safety. Sure, no one wants another disaster like last year (I know a lot of people who had friends and family directly effected by the Camp Fire), but there’s a general feeling like PG&E royally screwed over hundreds of thousands of us by being so last minute and so vague about all their warnings.