Tips For Keeping Your Food Safe When The Power Goes Out

By now, everyone from South Carolina to New England is tracking the cone of possibilities of Hurricane Irene. Will she tack west or go east? Whatever path she takes, it seems pretty certain that a lot of folks are going to get drenched and some may lose power, suffer flooding or worse. A power outage can affect the safety of your food supply but there are some things you can do now to prepare for that possibility.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you keep ice on hand or know where to get it should you lose power. If you don’t have a generator, here is what else to do:

  • Put an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. That way you’ll know the temperature if the power goes out.
  • Make sure the freezer is set at 0 degrees F or below and the refrigerator is at 40 degrees F or below.
  • Group food together in the freezer — this helps it stay cold longer.
  • Use any extra space to freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers.
  • Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

If you do lose power:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • If unopened, the refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
  • Buy dry ice if you think the power will be out for a prolonged period. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot freezer for two days.
  • If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.

Finally, the USDA says, never taste a food to determine its safety and, when in doubt, throw it out.