When the electricity or power goes out, many people wonder if they can still eat what was left in their refrigerator or freezer.
Federal and State health officials say that: “As long as the time is less than four hours, the food inside your refrigerator should be okay. For the freezer it’s more like 24 hours.”
They also state: “Safe bet is to toss it; restaurants and stores follow that rule. When in doubt, throw it out!”
Food Safety Tips After a Power Outage
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The USDA – Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has food safety tips for those affected by a power outage resulting from a hurricane or tropical storm. It’s good for everyone along a coast to keep these recommendations on hand for possible future outages.
If Your Power Went Out
If your power has gone out recently, the USDA recommends some steps to take:
- Avoid opening the fridge and freezer doors unless you need to. If kept closed, the food will stay cold for longer — a shut refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours while a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
- Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray. This helps prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.
- Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
- Food Cooler. Coolers filled with ice can preserve food slightly longer during a power outage.
- Food Thermometer. Having a digital thermometer to check the internal temperatures of food ensures they’re cold enough to use safely.
Before You Eat Food
Before you eat any food in the fridge or freezer, here are some guidelines to make sure it’s still safe:
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (things like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Toss any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch. You’ll want to check each item individually for this.
- Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed out may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
- Never taste food to decide if it’s safe. If you’re unsure, just toss it.The most important thing to remember is: when in doubt, throw it out. Otherwise, you and your family could get really sick, and you’ve certainly got enough to worry about and deal with after a natural disaster.
For more tips on how to prepare your fridge before the storm hits, visit fsis.usda.gov.
General Food Safety Tips
Wash hands frequently with soap and running water
- After using the bathroom
- Before handling food
- When switching between raw and cooked foods
- After eating, drinking, or smoking
- After changing a diaper
- Whenever hands become contaminated
- Between changing gloves
- Make sure to keep soap and paper towels at all handwashing sinks
Wear gloves properly
- Wash hands and put on new gloves before handling food
- Never re-use or wash gloves
- Change gloves once they become soiled or discolored
- Change gloves when switching between raw and cooked foods
- Change gloves whenever hands become contaminated
- Always wash hands before changing into a new pair of gloves
- Remove gloves before eating, drinking, smoking, or taking out the garbage
Thaw foods in the refrigerator before cooking, serving
- Keep cold foods at 41 degrees F or below
Cook foods thoroughly (for a minimum of 15 seconds as indicated below)
- Chicken and other poultry and stuffed meats — 165 degrees F
- Ground beef and other ground meats — 155 degrees F
- Pork, beef, eggs, and other meats — 145 degrees F
- Once cooked, keep hot foods at 140 degrees F or above
- Cool hot foods rapidly to 41 degrees F, or below, within 4 hours of serving
- Do not touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands
- Use utensils to handle food, whenever possible