Safe & Healthy: What to do when the power goes out?

If the power goes off in your home due to a winter storm, it may be difficult to determine whether the food in your refrigerator or freezer is safe to consume. There are some guidelines that will help you decide whether to keep or discard food items after a power outage.

Refrigerated Foods
Generally, refrigerated foods are safe as long as the power is out for no more than a few hours. Keep the refrigerator door closed; food will remain chilled for four to six hours if the door is not opened. When power is restored, check all food and keep or toss.

Foods to Keep
The following foods can be safely stored at room temperature (above 40°F) a few days. These foods will be safe to consume, even if the power is out for a 1 to 2 days.
• Butter and margarine
• Hard cheeses (such as Cheddar, Swiss)
• Fresh fruits and vegetables
• Fruit juices*
• Dried fruits and nuts
• Fresh herbs and spices
• Opened jars of salad dressing, peanut butter, jelly, relish, barbecue sauce*
• Mustard, ketchup, and olives*
• Fruit pies*
• Bread, rolls, cakes and muffins
*Note: These foods may spoil due to yeast and mold growth if left at room temperature, so check for spoilage before consuming.

Foods to Discard
Some refrigerated food may be unsafe to consume if stored above 40°F for more than 2 hours. The following foods should be discarded.
• Raw or cooked meat, poultry, seafood
• Meat-topped pizza, lunch-meat
• Casseroles, stews or soups
• Milk/cream, yogurt, soft cheese (such as feta and Brie)
• Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, or creamy dressings
• Cooked pasta, potato, rice and salads prepared from these foods
• Cookie dough
• Fresh eggs, egg substitutes
• Cream-filled pastries
• Custard, chiffon or cheese pies
• Gravies
It is important to inspect any food for unusual odor or appearance. Discard any suspect food in the trash.

Frozen Foods
Food in a freezer will stay frozen for about two days; a half-full freezer for about one day. The kind of food in the freezer makes a difference; meats and vegetables will stay frozen longer than bread. To preserve food in your freezer, keep the freezer door closed as much as possible. Even after the food is thawed, if the temperature remains below 40°F in the freezer, the food will continue to be safe for another 1-2 days.

Hints on Saving as Much Food as Possible

  • First, use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator, then use foods from the freezer.
  • Minimize the number of times your open the freezer door by posting a list of freezer contents. In a well-filled, well-insulated freezer, there is a better chance that foods will remain cold and safe to eat once the power has turned back on.
  • Covering the freezer with blankets will help to hold in the cold. Be sure to pin blankets back so that the air vent is not covered.

Always consider the best advice: When in doubt, throw it out! Stay food safe, Barb

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