2017-09-13 / News

Food safety during power outages

By Terri Black
Burke County Extension Office

As I write this article, it is uncertain exactly how Burke County and her citizens will be affected by Hurricane Irma. Although we pray that damage is minimal, it still seems quite likely that we will experience power outages. Severe storms and other conditions often result in loss of power, which can cause the food in your refrigerator or freezer to become unsafe.

There are a few steps that you can take ahead of time to prepare for the worst before an emergency occurs. In my opinion, the most important of these is to purchase refrigerator/freezer thermometers for your refrigerator and freezer. Having a thermometer in your refrigerator and in your freezer will help you to know just how high the temperature gets in your appliances when the power goes off. To maintain food safety and quality, the temperature of your refrigerator should be 40 degrees or colder and your freezer should be 0 degrees or colder.

During the power outage, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours as long as the door stays closed. Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. Use three pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space and place cardboard between food and dry ice.

Remember, you cannot rely on appearance or odor to determine if the food is safe. Some foods may look and smell fine, but, if they have been warm too long, they may contain pathogens in quantities that could make you sick. Do not eat any food – unless it is in a waterproof container – that may have come in contact with floodwater.

The following foods should be discarded if kept more than two hours at above 40 °F.

• Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes – raw or cooked

• Milk, cream, yogurt and soft 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, tartar sauce and horseradish if above 50 °F for more than eight hours

The following foods should keep at room temperature a few days. Still, discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.

• Butter or margarine

• Hard and processed cheeses

• Fresh fruits and vegetables

• Dried fruits and coconut

• Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives and peanut butter

• Fruit juices

• Fresh herbs and spices

• Fruit pies, breads, rolls and muffins

• Cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled

• Flour and nuts

Thawed foods that still contain ice crystals may be refrozen. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals, but have been kept at 40 °F or below for two days or less, may be cooked, then refrozen or canned. When dealing with specific frozen food items, use these guidelines:

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.

Fish and shellfish: Discard them. 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.

If food has spoiled in a refrigerator or freezer because of a power failure, undesirable odors can develop. To eliminate odors, remove the food and wash the inside of the freezer with one tablespoon of baking soda in a quart of tap water, or with one cup of vinegar in a gallon of tap water. Let the surface dry.

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. For more information on food and water safety in severe storms, visit www.fsis.usda.gov/pdf/ severe_ storms_ and_ hurricanes_ guide.pdf or if you have specific questions, contact the UGA Extension Office in Burke County at 706-554-2119.

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