“When in doubt, throw it out.”
That’s the recommendation made by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it comes to handling refrigerated food in the event of a long-lasting power outage.
According to the FDA and CDC, refrigerators will keep food safe for only up to four hours after a power outage — if the door is kept closed as much as possible. If the temperature inside your fridge rises above 40°F for more than two hours, they say you should discard all refrigerated perishable food, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers.
Frozen foods are a different story. A half-full freezer can hold a safe temperature for about 24 hours if the door remains closed, and a full one for double that time. Beyond time, another good indicator of food safety are its look or temperature, as food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below, the CDC and FDA note.
You should also throw out any food with an unusual odor, color or texture, the CDC advises. Forget about tasting it; no matter what, you should never taste food to determine its safety.
The CDC offers a few tips on what can be done prior to an expected power outage:
- If you want to keep your food safe, be sure to stock up on appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer.
- Your refrigerator should be at 40°F or below, and the freezer should be at 0°F or below.
- Freeze containers of water and gel packs or purchase coolers to help keep your food at 40°F or below during the outage.
- If you believe your power will be out for awhile, you can also fill your refrigerator with dry or block ice to keep your food cold during the outage.
For more information, the FDA provides a detailed list (shown below) of what to keep and what to throw out after a power outage for both refrigerated and frozen items:
Note: Parts of this report were originally published on July 23, 2019.
Caroline Fassett may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.