Keep Food Safe During Power Outages
Posted: November 5, 2012
Power outages are not only an inconvenience, but also a food safety issue. When we lose electricity for a long period of time, the food in our refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe. Knowing how to determine if food is safe and how to keep food safe will help minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Below are some tips from Penn State Extension and the USDA for keeping food safety during a power outage.
Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometers and appliance thermometers will help you know if the food is at safe temperatures. Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer no matter how long the power has been out. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 ºF or below; the freezer, 0 ºF or lower.
If the power is off for more than two hours, begin monitoring the temperature of the refrigerator. Keep the thermometer close to the opening of the door. This will allow you to open the door only slightly, keeping the temperature lower. Check the temperature each hour. When it reaches 40ºF., place block ice in a container in the refrigerator. You might also consider placing perishable items in a cooler with ice or ice packs around them. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
If the temperature of the refrigerator rises above 40 ºF for more than two hours, discard perishable foods such as:
* Meat, poultry, seafood
* Cold cuts, hot dogs
* Yogurt, milk, cream, sour cream
* Cut fresh fruits
* Creamy salad dressings, fish sauces, hoisin sauce, opened spaghetti sauce
* Custards, pudding
A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Rearrange meats so their juices do not drip onto other foods as the meats begin to thaw. Throw away any ready-to-eat item that comes in contact with meat juices.
Frozen foods that have partially or completely thawed can be refrozen if they contain ice crystals. If they have completely thawed but are still at a temperature of 40 ºF or below, they also can be refrozen.
Be prepared for an emergency by having items on hand that don’t require refrigeration and can be eaten cold. Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should be part of a planned emergency food supply. Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and pet food. Remember to use these items and replace them from time to time. Be sure to keep a hand-held can opener for an emergency.
Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Extension of Lackawanna County.