Right before Christmas, some of my relatives lost electricity when the wind knocked out their neighborhood’s power lines. They spent a cold night at home and were worried they would lose all the holiday food in their fridge.
A power outage can occur at any time – heavy thunderstorms, heat wave when the power grid is stretched thin, local electrical repairs, hurricanes, earthquakes etc. A lot of people wonder what to do with the food in the refrigerator when electricity is lost for a period of time.
As soon as you lose power
If you lose electricity, keep the refrigerator and freezer door closed to keep food from spoiling.
Call your power company and get an estimate on when power will be restored. This will give you an idea how long you’ll be out of power. In the meantime the whole family must avoid opening the fridge and freezer.
If it looks like power will not be restored right away, you may have to take some action. Assuming you are not in the middle of a disaster, and are able to go out, pick up some dry ice or bags of ice. The last time my fridge broke down, we placed everything in a cooler and packed the cooler with ice. I had to learn to live without a fridge for a while but the foods did stay cold.
Another thing families do when they are about to lose their refrigerated foods is to try and cook those foods that are cutting it close. During the hurricanes I have experienced, many residents did exactly that-fire up the barbecue and grill the meats. That’s why you need a backup methods for cooking food in the event of a power outage.
Let’s look at what to do with refrigerated foods after a power outage.
Meats and other perishable foods
Here is a rule of thumb regarding re-freezing meat if you have a power outage: If the meat still has ice crystals, and the fridge temperature stayed below 40 degrees, then it is safe to refreeze.
You may wonder, how would you know what is the temperature in your fridge? You may have to get a thermometer for your refrigerator and freezer.
Another rule of thumb is, if the power was out less than four hours, and the fridge or freezer door was kept closed, then the food would still be safe.
If you have any doubts, it may be best to throw it out. It is not worth getting sick from bad food.
According to Foodsafety.gov, it’s best to discard the following foods if they were exposed to temperatures above 40 °F for more than 2 hours:
|Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, potato, pasta or egg salad|
|Gravy, stuffing, broth|
|Lunch meats such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef|
|Pizza (any topping)|
|Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”|
|Canned meats and fish, opened|
|Casseroles, soups, stews|
Even if they were held above 40 °F for more than 2 hours, processed cheeses and hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano remain safe to eat.
Soft cheeses such as blue cheese, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, and queso fresco should be discarded.
Discard milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk if they were kept above 40 °F for more than 2 hours.
Butter can actually last through a power outage due to the salt content.
Eggs and egg products
Discard them to be on the safe side, if they were stored above 40 °F for more than 2 hours. If you want eggs to last longer, try this easy way.
Without refrigeration, the shelf life of fruit depends on when the fruit was actually picked, and how ripe it was when you bought it. Many fruits last a long time without refrigeration: apples and citrus fruits will last around four to five weeks on the counter.
Ripe pineapples and mangoes must be eaten within 24 hours.
Strawberries and other berries are short-lived without the fridge – eat them as soon as soon as possible, or the following day after the power outage at the latest.
Cut up fruit salads will need to be discarded if they were above 40 °F for more than 2 hours.
Vegetables and herbs
Some vegetables such as celery, broccoli and cauliflower will stay fresh when stored upright in water.
Herbs also store well while sitting upright in water.
Root crops such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onion, garlic will last one to two months without refrigeration. Cut onions will need to be used right away or they will get moldy.
Squash such as zucchini will last a week without refrigeration.
Tomatoes (technically a fruit but considered a vegetable for cooking purposes) will last two weeks if they are still green, or about a week at the most if they are already ripe.
These condiments remain safe after a power outage:
- Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles
- Worcestershire, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, hoisin sauce
- Vinegar-based dressings
Discard the following:
- Opened jar of mayonnaise, horseradish or tartar sauce
- Opened creamy dressings
- Spaghetti sauce that has been opened
Breads, rolls and desserts
Keep bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, bagels, fruit pies.
Toss cheesecake, refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough, cream-filled pastries, custards.
Can you store freezer food out in the snow?
A lot of people wonder if you lose power in the winter, is it a good idea to store food out in the snow. While it sounds like it makes sense, ,in reality, placing perishable food out in the snow does not guarantee they will be safe to eat. Temperatures outside rarely remain constant: food can thaw outside, and the sun may warm up parts of the food causing bacteria to grow. The food can also come in contact with animals or insects.
Instead, place the food place the food in a cooler and pack it with snow. Or make your own ice by leaving water bottles outside to freeze and using those to keep your food cold.
Can you test the food to tell if it’s safe?
Unfortunately, you cannot always tell by taste and smell – bacteria may have grown on the food that cannot be detected by taste or smell. Besides if you taste the food that has already spoiled you may get sick just from tasting it. Throw out any perishable foods that have been above 40 °F for 2 hours or more.
As much as you may hate wasting food, your health is not worth risking. When in doubt, throw it out!
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