|No power? No time to take chances with food safety|
Not only during hurricane season, but any time there is a power outage, it is important to know how to handle refrigerated and frozen foods.
The following are answers to some of the most often asked questions regarding food safety during a power outage.
1. How long will the foods in the refrigerator and freezer be safe after the power goes off?
Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power is out for no more than four hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40°F for two or more hours. Remember you can’t rely on appearance or odor.
Foods that can be refrigerated/refrozen safely after being held above 40°F for more than two hours include hard cheeses, butter or margarine, peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles, opened vinegar-based dressings, bread, rolls, cakes without icing, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, and bagels.
You will have to evaluate each item separately. If an appliance thermometer is kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. Normal freezer temperature should be below 0°F (-18°C). After a power outage, if the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. If the food contains ice crystals or (is 40°F or below), it is safe to refreeze the food.
2. How long can I store foods in an insulated cooler with ice?
If the temperature is well maintained (at 40°F or below), the shelf life of food in the insulated cooler with ice is similar to when those foods are stored in the refrigerator. Discard any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40°F for two hours.
3. Which condiments and seasonings can be safely kept without refrigeration and which should be discarded? Should I throw out jelly, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and pickles?
In general, open vinegar, jelly, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives and pickles are safe at room temperature. However, you will have to evaluate each item separately. An unopened jar of commercial mayonnaise is safe without refrigeration, but if the jar is already open, discard the item.
4. Which foods can be kept without refrigeration for at least a week?
Any dried non-perishable foods such as unopened commercially canned foods, dried breakfast cereal, crackers and cookies can be kept without refrigeration for at least a week.
5. Can I save the ice cream in my freezer if the power was out for 6 hours? The ice cream is only partially thawed. Is it safe to eat?
Partially thawed ice cream is safe to eat. But do not refreeze ice cream because the quality will be unacceptable.
6. Some of the food in my freezer had started to thaw or had thawed when the power came back on. Is the food safe?
If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40°F or below when the power comes on, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety.
Remember you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals (or is 40°F or below when checked by thermometer), it is safe to refreeze. (See answer to Question 1 for more information.)
7. How long will a freezer keep food cold and safe during a power outage?
If the freezer is closed, food may stay frozen at least a day or more depending on several factors, including the quantity of insulation, the size of the freezer, type of foods in the freezer, how the food is packed, and how full the freezer is.
As a rule of thumb, a full freezer stays cold longer than a half-full one, a freezer filled with meat stays cold longer than a freezer filled with baked goods, a well-insulated freezer keeps food frozen longer than one with little insulation, and the larger the freezer, the longer food stays frozen. Purchasing a freezer thermometer is recommended.
8. May I refreeze foods that are partially or completely thawed?
If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40°F or below when the power comes back on, the food is safe and may be refrozen. Discard food items that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat. (See answer to Question 1 for more information).