Don’t open the freezer if the power is out

Each time you open the freezer door while the power is out increases the interior temperature and decreases the time foods will hold safely without power.

It could be mother nature knocking out the power, maybe someone accidentally unplugged the freezer in the basement, or maybe that reliable appliance just ran out of steam and quit on you. Regardless, the big question of food safety comes up when this problem arises.

Curiosity during a power outage has us opening the door checking on the freezer, but if it is at all possible, avoid this practice. Each door opening increases the interior temperature and decreases the time foods will hold safely without power. In most cases, a full or nearly full chest-type freezer, in an appropriate location, will hold well for 24 hours or longer. If it has been less than 24 hours, do not open the door when the power resumes, let items refreeze for at least 24 hours before opening the door. If the power has been out longer, you will need to survey the situation and make decisions, based on the temperature of the freezer once the power resumes.

Conditions that can decrease the time the freezer will hold safely include:

  • Any door opening during the power outage, especially with an upright model.
  • High room temperatures (above 85 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The initial freezer temperature was above zero degrees.
  • The freezer was less than half full.

Where the freezer is located can make a difference in how it operates. The best location for a separate freezer is a cool, dry room. Keep the freezer at least two inches away from walls and allow circulation room above. A unattached garage is not recommended, as they may become too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

Tips to be better prepared in the event of a power outage include keeping the freezer stocked with “solid” foods. Meaning meats, soups etc. if you have stocked up on breads and other baked goods, you will not have much solid frozen food if the power goes out. If your freezer is half full, fill two to three gallon milk jugs, leaving two inches of head space for expansion. Place in different corners of the freezer, once frozen they will help keep a less than full freezer colder for longer and also keep the freezer from working so hard when the power is on. Another suggestion is to keep freezer thermometers in all of your freezers. You will need to know what the temperature is once the power does come back on to help you determine what can be salvaged if thawing has occurred. A freezer thermometer is the only reliable tool to give you accurate readings, as trying to determine if something is cold by hand won’t do. Another trick is to place two or three ice cubes in a plastic freezer bag and seal. Keep this in the freezer at all times. If there is a power outage you will know if the interior temperature was above 32 degrees Fahrenheit if the cubes have melted. This is especially helpful if you have a cottage and are not always there. The power may have been off, the ice melted and refroze when the power came back on, making the ice change shape. This would indicate what you have in the freezer may not be good any longer, even if it has refrozen. You would need to do some research to determine how long the power had been out.

It is not recommended to refreeze completely thawed food. The quality will always be poorer and spoilage may have taken place during the thawing period. Michigan State University Extension recommends that most foods above 40 degrees Fahrenheit be discarded after two hours because of the risk of food poisoning. Exceptions would be nuts, coffee and some baked goods. To learn more about freezing see what is recommended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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