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 Home>Family & Home>Hazards and Threats>Power Outage>

Play It Safe With Food After a Power Outage

Preparing for Power Outage

You can do a few things to help prepare for power outages so you won't have a food safety problem.

  • Keep several blue-ice freezable packages in your freezer or fill containers (such as milk cartons) with water and freeze them. If the electricity goes out, you'll have blocks of ice in the freezer to help maintain temperature.If your freezer is not full, fill containers (such as milk cartons) with water and freeze them. If the electricity goes out, you'll have blocks of ice in the freezer to help maintain temperature.
  • Know where you can buy dry ice.
  • Turn the thermostat on your freezer and refrigerator to the coldest setting. Be sure to return to a normal setting when the electricity is restored.
  • 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 40º F or below; the freezer, 0º F or lower. If you’re not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a digital, dial or instant-read food thermometer.

During Power Outage

Following these steps will help keep food safe during power outages or when the freezer or refrigerator is not working:

  • While the electricity is off, avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer doors unless absolutely necessary.
  • A fully stocked freezer will usually keep food frozen for two days after losing power. A half-full freezer will usually keep food frozen for about one day. If the freezer isn't full, quickly group packages together so they'll retain the cold more effectively.
  • Separate raw meat and poultry items from other foods. If raw meat and poultry begin to thaw, this will prevent their juices from getting onto other foods.
  • If the power will be out for a longer period than the freezer will maintain the cold, dry ice may be placed in the freezer. Place the dry ice on cardboard or on empty shelves in the freezer around the items to be kept frozen. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot full freezer for 2 days. CAUTION: Never touch dry ice with your bare hands or breathe the fumes.
  • In the refrigerator, highly perishable food will usually be keep safely cold for about 4 hours, depending on the kitchen temperature. If the power will be out longer, place dry or block ice in the refrigerator to keep it as cold as possible.

After Power Outage

NEVER taste a food to determine its safety.

When the freezer is operating again, use these guidelines to decide what to do with foods that were stored in the freezer:

  • If ice crystals are still visible and/or the food feels as cold as if refrigerated (40° F or below), it is safe to refreeze. Raw meats and poultry, cheese, juices, breads and pastries can be refrozen without losing a lot of quality. Prepared foods, fish, vegetables and fruits can be refrozen safely, but quality may suffer. Mark these to be used as soon as possible. Remember that seafood will be among the first to thaw and will need attention first. Also, ground meat is likely to spoil before other meats.
  • If the food thawed and has not been above 40o F for more than 2 hours, cook and serve or refreeze.
  • If the food thawed or was held above 40o F for more than 2 hours, generally it should be discarded because bacteria may multiply to unsafe levels under these conditions. The only foods that can be refrozen under these conditions are well-wrapped hard cheeses, butter and margarine, breads and pastries without custard fillings, fruits and fruit juices that look and smell acceptable. Vegetables held above 40o F for less than 6 hours may be refrozen with quality loss.
  • Pecans and other nuts may be refrozen safely but may suffer quality loss.

When the refrigerator is operating again, use these guidelines to decide what to do with foods that were stored in the refrigerator:

  • Throw away leftovers and perishable foods that have been held above 40F for more than 2 hours, including meats, poultry, fish, seafood, lunch meats, hot dogs, milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, soft cheeses, soy milk and eggs.
  • Hard cheese and processed cheese will be okay. Well-wrapped butter and margarine can usually be kept as long as they do not melt; discard if rancid odors develop.
  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, relishes, piquant sauce, oil and vinegar-based salad dressings, Worcestershire sauce and steak sauces should be fine. The acid in them is a natural preservative. Jams, jellies, preserves and syrups are all right, too, because sugar is a preservative. Check for mold growth. Discard opened mayonnaise, horseradish and tartar sauce if held above 50 F for more than 8 hours.

  • Discard milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, soy milk and eggs if held above 40F for more than 2 hours. Whole fresh fruits, dried fruits, opened fruit juices and fresh vegetables are safe as long as they're still firm and there's no evidence of mold, a yeasty smell or sliminess, but discard cut fruits; precut, prewashed packaged greens and opened vegetable juices if held above 40o F for more than 2 hours.

  • Nuts and peanut butter also are safe.
  • DISCARD refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
Last Updated: 5/22/2012 1:42:26 PM

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