Q. How can you tell if refrigerated and frozen food is safe to eat after you lose electricity?
A. That depends on how long you?ve been without power. Between November’s Midwest wind-whipped, downed power lines to October’s California fires to this past summer’s Northeast blackout and Hurricane Isabel, millions of Americans were left without power for a significant length of time this year.
We all hate to throw out food, but worse is eating food deemed iffy because it wasn’t kept at a cold enough temperature. And for good reason. Foodborne illness can have serious, even long-lasting consequences, particularly for those who are older or have compromised immune systems.
To save you from wondering what to do with perishable food, here’s what you need to know the next time Mother Nature (or an overloaded network) forces you to face life without power.
While Power Is Out. Keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed. Food will remain cold and at a safe temperature (at or below 40? F) for about four hours in an unopened refrigerator. A full freezer will maintain its temperature (at or below 0? F) for about 48 hours, but only for 24 hours if it is half full.
Power Restored: Save or toss? Here’s how to decide what you can keep and what you should not.
Refrigerated Food?If power has been out longer than four hours, there’s a risk that the small amount of microbes inevitably on food will have already begun to multiply. So be prudent at this point and discard all perishables: milk; yogurt; soft cheeses; raw and cooked eggs; raw, cooked and cured meat, poultry and seafood; leftovers; packaged greens; opened dressings and sauces.
Some refrigerated items remain safe even after four hours without power and refrigerator temperatures above 40? F. These items include pasteurized fruit juice, jelly, ketchup, mustard, hard and processed cheeses, raw fruits and vegetables.
Frozen Food?If food still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated, you can refreeze it, though there may be a loss in quality, especially texture. If perishables like meat, poultry and fish have thawed, check their internal temperatures by inserting the tip of an instant-read food thermometer about two inches into the food. If it reads 40?F or below, it is safe to keep refrigerated until you can cook it and eat it. Discard frozen vegetables that have been above 40?F for more than six hours.
Frozen foods that may be refrozen? even if they?ve thawed and were above 40? F for four hours?include nuts, frozen waffles, breads, rolls and muffins.
CAUTION: Never taste food to determine its safety. Foodborne microbes do not cause food to smell or taste any different. And sometimes just a taste can make you very sick. When in doubt, throw it out!
—Anastasia Schepers, M.S., R.D.