Here's why you should never store food outside during a winter power outage

Refrigerated food can last up to 4 hours before spoiling; frozen foods can last 24-48 hours in a freezer

Power outages can occur at any time, and that can put the food you're storing in the refrigerator and freezer at risk.

And while it may seem tempting to place food outside during the winter months to keep it cold and frozen until power is restored, the United States Department of Agriculture warns against this.

"It's very possible that it's not the safest option," said Meredith Carothers, of the USDA. "The reason for that, especially when you put something in the snow, you're potentially exposing it to unsafe or unsanitary conditions."

Carothers joined FOX Weather on Tuesday morning to explain the dangers of putting food outside to try and keep it cold.

She said the temperature could vary during the day, and even during the winter months, it can still get warm enough outside to make your food unsafe.

Some places in the United States would likely stay cold enough to keep food safe, but don't risk it.

"It's possible that those places might be able to keep food in a cold enough environment like that, but just for safety for everyone to make sure everybody is staying safe, we tend to recommend against it just to make sure everybody is keeping their food as safe as possible," Carothers said.

According to the USDA's website, the temperature isn't the only danger to your food if it's stored outside. You also need to worry about wild animals.

"Animals may harbor bacteria or disease," the website says. "Never consume food that has come in contact with an animal."

How do we know if and when food has started to spoil?

"Smell is one of the biggest indicators of food spoilage," Carothers said. "So if you're starting to notice an off odor or any kind of slimy or sticky texture on your foods, you don't want to use those foods anymore. It probably means that they have started to spoil."

Also, Carothers says, foodborne illness bacteria is separate from spoilage bacteria.

"You actually can't see, taste or smell any of those bacteria that can really make you sick," she said. "Which is why we recommend not to taste something to determine if it's still safe or not."

How long do we have before food in our refrigerators and freezers starts to go bad?

Carothers said a refrigerator can store food at its normal temperature for about 4 hours.

"You really want to make sure your foods are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit because that's going to be that sweet spot of making sure that there are no foodborne illness bacteria starting to multiply," she said.

After 4 hours, that's when Carothers recommends other options, like moving refrigerated foods to a cooler with some ice packs or a freezer to help keep them cold.

However, you have a longer window to keep foods safe that are frozen.

"When it comes to the freezer, you have about 24-48 hours that we would recommend that your freezer foods are staying safe," Carothers said.

A stocked freezer will help ensure that the foods will stay frozen longer, thus ensuring your food stays safe for a longer period of time.