Food Safety Before, During and After a Power Outage
Power outages can happen for many reasons and in our rural communities, it can stay off for multiple days. As severe winter storm season approaches, the chances of power outage is possible. Losing power will mean food safety will become a concern if it lasts longer than a few hours. There are things before, during and after a power outage that can be done to ensure you and your family are safe from contaminated food.
• Add appliance thermometers to your refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerators should remain at 40°F or below and the freezer needs to stay at 0°F or below.
• Have portable coolers handy. During a winter storm, refrigerated food can be moved to coolers and stored in the garage or outside on a porch. Snow or ice can be put in the coolers to keep food cold. Use a food thermometer to assure temperatures stay cold within the coolers. If the coolers will be kept indoors, acquire dry ice or block ice.
• Having non-refrigerated food items and ready to use formula for baby on hand is recommended. Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods that can be eaten cold or heated on portable heat will help extend your food supply.
• Be sure to have a hand-held can opener for an emergency as well.
• Cook on appropriate inside or outside devices. A mini folding camp stove with canned fuel or portable butane cylinders can be used indoors with appropriate ventilation. Propane and charcoal grills generate carbon monoxide and should only be used outside. Be sure you have a Carbon Monoxide Detector.
• In your freezer, group similar foods together; this will help food stay colder longer. Place meat and poultry to one side so if they thaw and drip, it won’t contaminate other items.
• If you have prior notice of a storm, freeze containers of water or gel packs to later put into your refrigerator to lower the temperature.
• Freeze any refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that may not be needed immediately to keep them at a safe temperature longer.
• Keeping the refrigerator and freezer closed will keep food safe longer. On average, temperatures will stay cold enough for about 4 hours in the refrigerator and 24-48 hours in a freezer.
• After 4 hours, check temperatures and move refrigerated perishable foods into coolers.
• These include meats, poultry, fish, seafood, lunch meats, hot dogs, milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, soft cheeses, soy milk, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs and leftovers.
• Hard cheese, processed cheese, butter and margarine can usually be kept in the refrigerator as long as they do not melt
• Uncut fruit, such as apples and oranges, can be stored outside the fridge. Breads, cookies, muffins, hard cheeses, salad dressing and cakes without cream or custard are also pretty safe. Nuts and peanut butter also are safe.
• Never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.
• Throw out any perishable food left in your refrigerator beyond 4 hours. Perishable food not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even after cooked.
• Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, relishes, oil and vinegar-based salad dressings, Worcestershire sauce and steak sauces should be fine. The acid in them is a natural preservative. Jams, jellies, preserves and syrups are all right, too, because sugar is a preservative. Check for mold growth.
• Discard opened mayonnaise, horseradish and tartar sauce if held above 50°F for more than 8 hours.
• Throw out any food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.
• If you have an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check to see if it is still at 40 °F or below.
• Frozen food should be checked for ice crystals. You can safely refreeze thawed food if it still contains ice crystals, or if it's 40 degrees or below.
• You can safely refreeze or cook thawed frozen food that still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below.