Food Safety during a power outage

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By CANDACE TUCKER, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UGA Extension Coweta County

Spring and summer showers are usually accompanied by thunderstorms that can cause troublesome power outages.

Power outages can last for many hours or days. Even worse, they can wreak havoc on your food supply stored in the refrigerator or freezer. You are then left in a predicament of trying to save your food and also figuring out if it is safe to eat. To guide you in the right direction, I’ve gathered key recommendations sourced from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on what to do when your refrigerator or freezer stops working.

First and foremost, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain a safe, cold temperature. A safe temperature for the freezer is 0° F or below and for a refrigerator, it is 40° F or below. If the doors stay closed, a full freezer will hold its temperature for 48 hours and 24 hours if half full. A refrigerator will keep food safe for four hours, given that the door remains closed. 

If four hours have passed, place perishable foods from the refrigerator into a cooler with ice or the freezer to maintain a safe temperature. You can also buy dry or block ice to keep your freezer as cold as possible, especially if the power outage continues for an extended period. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic-foot, fully stocked freezer cold for 2 days.

After a power outage, there are a few ways to determine if your food is safe to eat. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer was not kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals and is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, or leftovers) that were stored at temperatures above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures were above 90° F).

If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, each item must be thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was stored above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90° F) — discard it. 

Still unsure on what to keep or discard? Visit the USDA’s website at https://bit.ly/foodsafetychart for a detailed list of foods to save or throw away. It is always recommended that you never taste food to determine its safety, and if you are in doubt, throw it out! 

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