Power outages occur as a result of storms and other disturbances and often happen more than we would like. These outages are not only inconvenient, but also pose safety issues, especially when it comes to food. Knowing how to handle food after a power outage will help you avoid foodborne illness. Below is a guide to which foods are safe to keep in the refrigerator and freezer after a power outage, and which foods should be thrown out.
General Food Safety
It is a good idea to keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. This allows you to accurately monitor the temperatures of your appliances.
When the power goes out, try to find out how long the power is expected to be out. If it is only out for a few hours, open the refrigerator or freezer doors as little as possible to allow the units to maintain their temperatures longer.
The threshold for most foods is 40°F or lower. Bacteria will grow between 40°F and 140°F.
Throw out any food that has an unusual color, odor, or texture. Never taste foods to determine their safety.
Food Safety — Refrigerator
If the power is out for more than two hours, you should begin to monitor the temperature of the refrigerator and check every hour after that. Once it reaches 40°F, place block or dry ice in the refrigerator.
Perishable Foods in the Refrigerator
Once the temperature is above 40°F for more than two hours, the following perishable foods need to be thrown out:
- Meat, poultry, seafood
- Cold cuts and hot dogs
- Milk, yogurt, cream, sour cream, and casseroles
- Soft, shredded, and low-fat cheeses
- Fresh cut fruits
- Puddings and custards
- Creamy salad dressings, fish sauces, opened spaghetti sauces
- Pizza, cooked pasta, pasta salads, and rice
- Refrigerated biscuits, rolls, and cookie dough
- Cooked vegetables, greens, opened vegetable juice
- Baked or mashed potatoes and potato salad
Refrigerated Foods that are Safe to Keep
Foods that are safe to eat even if kept at 40°F for more than two hours include:
- Canned or uncut fresh fruit
- Canned or fresh vegetables
- Hard and processed cheeses that are properly wrapped
- Grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses
- Herbs and spices
- Peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, mustard, relish, and olives
- Barbecue, taco, and soy sauces
- Margarine that is properly wrapped
- Breads, rolls, muffins, bagels, cakes, pancakes, and waffles
Food Safety — Freezer
Thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer can be refrozen safely if it is at 40°or lower or still contains ice crystals. Thawing and refreezing may affect the quality of some food, but it is safe to eat.
Perishable Foods in the Freezer
Once the temperature is above 40°F or higher, the following foods need to be thrown out:
- Beef, pork, veal, lamb, and ground meats
- Poultry and ground poultry
- Organ meats like liver, kidney, heart, and chitterlings
- Soups, stews, and casseroles
- Fish, shellfish, and breaded seafood products
- Frozen yogurt and ice cream
- Soft, semi-soft, and shredded cheeses
- Casseroles and cheesecake
- Cakes, pies, and pastries with custard or cheese filling
- Pizza and other convenience foods
Foods that are Safe to Refreeze
- Hard cheeses
- Commercially packaged fruits and fruit juices
- Commercially packaged vegetables and vegetable juices
- Cakes, breads, and muffins without custard or cheese filling
- Commercially packaged and homemade pie crust and bread dough
- Breakfast items like waffles pancakes and bagels