Food Safety Guide For An Extended Power Outage

November 1, 2011 11:43 AM

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(Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

After a several hours without power, some of the foods in your refrigerator and freezer can start to spoil.

While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.

If the power is out for longer than 2 hours, follow the guidelines below from the US Department of Agriculture and the Center for Disease Control:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do NOT put the food from the refrigerator and freezer out in the snow. Frozen food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun’s rays even when the temperature is very cold. Refrigerated food may become too warm and foodborne bacteria could grow. The outside temperature could vary hour by hour and the temperature outside will not protect refrigerated and frozen food. Additionally, perishable items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions or to animals. Animals may harbor bacteria or disease; never consume food that has come in contact with an animal. Rather than putting the food outside, consider taking advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers
  • Thawing or Thawed Food: If the food in the freezer has started to thaw or has thawed when the power comes back on., you will have to evaluate each item separately. Never taste food to determine its safety! If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below, it is safe to refreeze. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40 °F for 2 hours.
  • Refreezing Food: If food thawed or partially thawed, the food may be safely refrozen if the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below. You will have to evaluate each item separately. Be sure to discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat. See the attached charts for specific recommendations.
REFRIGERATOR FOODS
When to Save and When to Throw It Out
FOOD Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes

Discard

Thawing meat or poultry

Discard

Meat, tuna, shrimp,chicken, or egg salad

Discard

Gravy, stuffing, broth

Discard

Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef

Discard

Pizza – with any topping

Discard

Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”

Discard

Canned meats and fish, opened

Discard

CHEESE
Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco

Discard

Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano

Safe

Processed Cheeses

Safe

Shredded Cheeses

Discard

Low-fat Cheeses

Discard

Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar)

Safe

DAIRY
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk

Discard

Butter, margarine

Safe

Baby formula, opened

Discard

EGGS
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products

Discard

Custards and puddings

Discard

CASSEROLES, SOUPS, STEWS

Discard

FRUITS
Fresh fruits, cut

Discard

Fruit juices, opened

Safe

Canned fruits, opened

Safe

Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates

Safe

SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish

Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.

Peanut butter

Safe

Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles

Safe

Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces

Safe

Fish sauces (oyster sauce)

Discard

Opened vinegar-based dressings

Safe

Opened creamy-based dressings

Discard

Spaghetti sauce, opened jar

Discard

BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES,PASTA, GRAINS
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas

Safe

Refrigerator biscuits,rolls, cookie dough

Discard

Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes

Discard

Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette

Discard

Fresh pasta

Discard

Cheesecake

Discard

Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels

Safe

PIES, PASTRY
Pastries, cream filled

Discard

Pies – custard,cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche

Discard

Pies, fruit

Safe

VEGETABLES
Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices

Safe

Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged

Discard

Vegetables, raw

Safe

Vegetables, cooked; tofu

Discard

Vegetable juice, opened

Discard

Baked potatoes

Discard

Commercial garlic in oil

Discard

Potato Salad

Discard

FREEZER FOODS
When to Save and When To Throw It Out
FOOD Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed.
Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats

Refreeze

Discard

Poultry and ground poultry

Refreeze

Discard

Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings)

Refreeze

Discard

Casseroles, stews, soups

Refreeze

Discard

Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products

Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss.

Discard

DAIRY
Milk

Refreeze. May lose some texture.

Discard

Eggs (out of shell) and egg products

Refreeze

Discard

Ice cream, frozen yogurt

Discard

Discard

Cheese (soft and semi-soft)

Refreeze. May lose some texture.

Discard

Hard cheeses

Refreeze

Refreeze

Shredded cheeses

Refreeze

Discard

Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses

Refreeze

Discard

Cheesecake

Refreeze

Discard

FRUITS
Juices

Refreeze

Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.

Home or commercially packaged

Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor.

Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.

VEGETABLES
Juices

Refreeze

Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.

Home or commercially packaged or blanched

Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss.

Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.

BREADS, PASTRIES
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)

Refreeze

Refreeze

Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling

Refreeze

Discard

Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough

Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur.

Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.

OTHER
Casseroles – pasta, rice based

Refreeze

Discard

Flour, cornmeal, nuts

Refreeze

Refreeze

Breakfast items –waffles, pancakes, bagels

Refreeze

Refreeze

Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie,convenience foods)

Refreeze

Discard

One more note: Some insurance companies will cover the cost to replace your food (which could be in the hundreds or thousands of dollar range) at little or no deductible.  You may want to check with your insurance provider before throwing anything away.

The following resources provide additional information on preparing for emergencies and determining if your food is safe after a power outage:

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