Keeping food safe during power outages

Follow these tips for preserving food during an emergency.

Keeping foods safe during power outages is important for the health and safety of you and your family. 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 food-borne illness.

Tips for preserving goods during a power outage
  • Keep the refrigerator or freezer door closed to keep the cold air inside. Do not open the door any more than necessary.
  •  Cover the appliance with blankets, sleeping bags or comforters to keep the cold in, making sure the vents are not covered.
  • A full free-standing freezer will stay at freezing temperatures about two days; a half -full freezer about one day if closed. Foods with higher water content will stay frozen longer.
  •  Keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower; the colder the food, the longer it will stay frozen.
  • Refrigerated food will usually remain cool in the refrigerator for four to six hours, depending on the room temperature.
  • To keep the refrigerator cool, set a block of ice or bag of ice cubes in a pan on the bottom shelf.

Michigan State University Extension recommends keeping an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and freezer at all times – refrigerator at 40 F and the freezer at 0 F.

You cannot rely on appearance or odor to determine if the food is safe. Never taste food to determine its safety.

Some foods may look and smell fine, but, if they have been warm too long, they may contain food poisoning bacteria in quantities that could make you sick.

Foods labeled “refrigerate after opening” are perishable and should be discarded if they have been without refrigeration for more than two hours. Those that do not require refrigeration either before or after opening may be refrigerated again.

Discard these foods if your refrigerator warms above 40 F for more than two hours
  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes – raw or cooked.
  • Milk, cream, yogurt, soft cheese, and shredded cheese.
  • Casseroles, stews or soups.
  • Lunch meats and hot dogs.
  • Creamy-based salad dressings.
  • Custard, chiffon or cheese pies.
  • Cream-filled pastries.
  • Refrigerator and cookie dough.
  • Discard open mayonnaise, tarter sauce and horseradish stored above 50 F for over eight hours.

Allow time for refrigerators to reach the proper temperature of 40 F before restocking

  • From the freezer: All foods should have ice crystals and be 40 F or colder.
  • Meats and poultry: Discard if the color or odor is questionable. Thawed meat and poultry should be thoroughly cooked, then refrozen and used as soon as possible.
  • Fruits (including juices): Refreeze only those that look and smell acceptable.
  • Vegetables: Thoroughly cook and serve thawed vegetables immediately or refreeze after cooking.
  • Fish and shellfish: Discard: these highly perishable foods may be spoiled even if there is no bad odor.
  • Ice cream: Do not use melted ice cream. Dairy foods are very perishable.
  • Baked goods: Breads, cakes and pastries without custard fillings may be refrozen, but use as soon as possible. Casseroles, pies, combination salads, and stews, should be cooked and reheated thoroughly and served immediately.

Power outages are unpredictable, so it is important to follow these food safety guidelines to avoid illness caused by unsafe foods. For more information on the proper storage, preparation and safe handling of foods, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office in your county. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out.

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