Next to water safety, food safety is the most serious issue following a lengthy power outage. If you kept your refrigerator and freezer closed during the blackout, and the blackout lasted less than two hours, you do not need to worry. After two hours, however, most refrigerators have lost enough coolness that the food in them begins to spoil.
Foods in the freezer will stay safe longer. A full freezer keeps food safe for forty-eight hours. In a half-full freezer, food will keep for twenty-four hours.
How can you tell if your food is safe to eat? One way is to check it with a digital quick-response thermometer (an item you may want to keep in your emergency kit). If a perishable food item registers higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and has been kept at that temperature for more than two hours, it is probably not safe. Exceptions are butter, hard cheeses, opened cans or bottles of fruit and fruit juices, breads, salad dressings, jellies, and bottled sauces. You can keep these items, but throw away everything else that was warmer than 40°F (4°C) for more than two hours.
Foods in the freezer are safe even if they have begun to thaw, as long as they have ice crystals on them and the temperature in the freezer is 40°F (4°C) or below. They should either be cooked right away or refrozen. Even if items have started to thaw, partially thawed food can be refrozen. The food loses some of its taste quality, but it is perfectly safe. Any once-frozen food that has been kept above 40°F (4°C) for longer than two hours should be thrown away. Remember, when in doubt about a food being safe to eat, it is better to throw it out than to risk it being spoiled!
A FOOD SAFETY CHECKLIST
- Never taste a food to find out if it has spoiled. When in doubt, throw it out!
- Discard all spoiled foods in plastic bags or containers that can be well tied or sealed.
- Perishable foods that are unsafe after two hours without refrigeration:
chicken, seafood, red meat, bacon, hot dogs, opened cans of meat, eggs or egg dishes, milk, yogurt, soft cheese, opened containers of mayonnaise, creamy salad dressings, pizza, pasta, pasta salads, rolls, biscuits, potato salads, opened containers of tomato sauce, cooked vegetables, cream-filled pastries, cookie dough, freshly cut fruits
- Once-frozen foods that can be refrozen if they are only partially thawed:
raw meats (including beef, veal, chicken, and ground meats), seafood, eggs and egg products, hard and soft cheeses, fruits, juices, cakes, pies, pastries, corn meal, flour, vegetables, frozen meals, casseroles
- Foods that can be kept for a limited time without refrigeration:
butter, margarine, hard cheeses, opened cans of fruit and fruit juices, vinegar-based salad dressings, raw vegetables, jelly, herbs, waffles, pancakes, pies
If you have been away from home during the power disruption, you may not know how long your food has been at what temperature. Your food could have thawed and refrozen. It may or may not be safe. One way you can tell is to keep a bag or other container of ice cubes in your freezer. If the cubes look like they melted and froze again in one blob, it is best to throw the food in the freezer away.