Food safety & power outages
A power outage can be concerning, especially when it impacts your food supply. Oftentimes, one of the biggest concerns during an extended power outage is the safety of the food inside your refrigerator and freezer. 398819002
Whether you live in an area like ours that’s prone to thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes, if the power goes out, we all have the same questions: How long can we still eat food in the refrigerator or freezer and what should we keep or pitch after the power comes back on?
Here are some steps & guides for keeping your food safe and fresh during a power outage:
• Keep the refrigerator door closed for as long as possible. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to four hours during a power outage if it is unopened. Remember, a full refrigerator will stay colder longer than emptier ones. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
• Buy appliance thermometers to keep inside your refrigerator and freezer. According to USDA, refrigerators should always be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and freezers at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping thermometers inside both your freezer and refrigerator is a great way to be proactive in the event of a power outage. It will be able to tell you when the fridge or freezer has warmed to an unsafe point. Once the temperature inside reaches 40 degrees or higher, perishable food is only good for two more hours before you should pitch it.
• Keep extra ice in your freezer and freeze bottles of water. Buy extra bags of ice to keep in your freezer to help maintain its temperature, and to use later if you have to transfer your food into a cooler. If your freezer has an ice maker, empty the ice cubes into gallon-sized storage bags each time the tray is full. The USDA also recommends keeping bottles of water in your freezer. Not only will this help keep frozen food cold longer, but you will also have a supply of fresh drinking water in case your water supply becomes contaminated. If water bottles are in short supply, which often happens when a storm is approaching, freeze fresh water in clean, quart-sized storage bags or food-safe plastic containers.
• Group your frozen food together in your freezer. This will help keep your food colder for a longer period of time.
• Transfer items from your refrigerator to your freezer. If there is a possibility of a power outage, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) also suggests transferring some of your refrigerated food to your freezer to keep it at a safe temperature for a longer period of time. Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below, however, its quality may suffer. Items such as milk, meats and leftovers that you don’t need immediately can be safely transferred to the freezer during a power outage.
• Keep a cooler or two handy in case of a prolonged power outage. If it looks as though your power will be out for more than 2-4 hours, the American Red Cross recommends packing refrigerated food into a cooler. You’ll want the temperature to stay at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure the cooler is packed with ice. If the power is going to be out for more than a day, prepare a second cooler for your freezer items. Any food that has been exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours, or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for more than one hour, should be thrown away. 80880002
• Stock up on shelf-stable foods that will stay good for a long time. Try to keep your pantry stocked with nonperishable foods and make sure you have a manual can opener since an electric one without batteries will not work if the power goes out. Cans of beans and vegetables can last on the shelf for 2-5 years according to the USDA. Other staples like peanut butter, rice, oatmeal and dried legumes will also last quite a while.
• Make sure to have charcoal or propane on hand if you have an outdoor grill. Don’t forget to stock up on charcoal or propane if have an outdoor grill. If your meat is starting to thaw in your fridge or freezer, having a working grill will save you from having to throw it all out. Food that is beginning to thaw, but is still at a safe temperature should be cooked first. Before cooking, check each item separately. Any food that feels warm to the touch or has an unusual odor, color, or texture should be thrown out. Use a food thermometer to make sure each item is cooked to a safe internal temperature to kill any foodborne bacteria.
Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out.