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Fridge and Freezer Food During Power Outage

The power just went OFF! What do you do?

If it’s winter and you live on the Palouse, one of your first concerns (beyond finding out the source and duration of the outage) is conserving the heat in your home. If you haven’t already, give some thought to your personal situation and make a plan.

Whether it’s winter or summer, your thoughts should also go to food preservation – specifically what you have that will soon perish as temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer rise. Do not add foodborne illness to your family’s  list of emergencies.

“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 foodborne illness,” states a USDA Fact Sheet on food safety during emergencies.

Use of thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. You probably use some type of air temperature gauge – old fashioned or digital – to monitor the heat or cold indoors and outdoors. It is not unreasonable to put thermometers in places where you trust your appliances are doing their job at cooling your food. Such thermometers are readily available and inexpensive and are mentioned as and ESSENTIAL tool in this USDA Fact Sheet.

Here are some basics from the Fact Sheet:

  • Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 °F and frozen food at or below 0 °F. This may be difficult when the power is out.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door      remains closed. Keep or obtain block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold      as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.
  • Plan ahead. Coolers are a great help for keeping food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours—have a couple on hand along with frozen gel packs. Coolers are also helpful when larger freezers are not full. Frozen food kept closer together, stays cold longer.
  • Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometers and appliance thermometers help in determining if the food is at safe temperatures. Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 °F or below; the freezer, 0 °F or lower. If you’re not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.
  • In winter, can I put my frozen food in the snow? No. Food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun’s rays even when the temperature is very cold. Or the outside temperature could vary hour by hour, to say nothing of  exposure to  unsanitary conditions or to animals. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.
  • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals, or is 40 °F or below, it is safe to refreeze. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers that have been above 40 °F for 2 hours.
  • Be sure to discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat.

Be prepared for an emergency… … by storing items that do not require refrigeration and can be eaten cold or prepared with alternative heat. Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods are essential to your emergency food supply plan. And depending on your circumstances, don’f forget items such as pet food and ready-to-use baby formula for infants. Remember to use these items and replace them from time to time. Be sure to store a non-electric can opener.

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