Keeping Food Safe, Cooking During Power Outage

Follow the chart from the USDA to determine if your food will be safe, plus tips on cooking without power.

Well, your power is out. Or at least, it was out at some point on Friday and Saturday because of the violent storms.

What do you do with food in the refrigerator and freezer when your power goes out? 

The United States Department of Agriculture says to keep meat, poultry, fish and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 degrees. Frozen food should be stored at or below zero degrees.

Check out the attached PDF for information on cooking without power.

The USDA advises to "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 four 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. Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time," said the USDA's guide for keeping food safe during an emergency. "Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot full freezer for 2 days." 

The USDA recommends using frozen gel packs and coolers to keep food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours. "When your freezer is not full, keep items close together—this helps the food stay cold longer," said the USDA.

Never try to taste food to determine if it is safe or not.

"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," said the USDA. "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 food (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," said the USDA. "Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat."

Here's USDA's chart for when refrigerated or frozen foods should be thrown out: 

Refrigerator Foods When to Save and When to Throw It Out FOODHeld above 40 °F for over 2 hours MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes
Discard Thawing meat or poultry Discard Meat, tuna, shrimp,chicken, or egg salad Discard Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard Pizza – with any topping Discard Canned hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Discard Canned meats and fish, opened Discard CHEESE
Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco
Discard Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe Processed Cheeses Safe Shredded Cheeses Discard Low-fat Cheeses Discard Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe DAIRY
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
Discard Butter, margarine Safe Baby formula, opened Discard EGGS
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
Discard Custards and puddings Discard CASSEROLES, SOUPS, STEWS Discard FRUITS
Fresh fruits, cut
Discard Fruit juices, opened Safe Canned fruits, opened Safe Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish
Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs. Peanut butter Safe Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces Safe Fish sauces (oyster sauce) Discard Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe Opened creamy-based dressings Discard Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES,PASTA, GRAINS
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas
Safe Refrigerator biscuits,rolls, cookie dough Discard Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard Fresh pasta Discard Cheesecake Discard Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe PIES, PASTRY
Pastries, cream filled
Discard Pies – custard,cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard Pies, fruit Safe VEGETABLES
Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices
Safe Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard Vegetables, raw Safe Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard Vegetable juice, opened Discard Baked potatoes Discard Commercial garlic in oil Discard Potato Salad Discard Frozen Food When to Save and When To Throw It Out FOODStill contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigeratedThawed.
Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats
Discard Poultry and ground poultry Refreeze Discard Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard Casseroles, stews, soups Refreeze Discard Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss. Discard DAIRY
Refreeze. May lose some texture.
Discard Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard Ice cream, frozen yogurt Discard Discard Cheese (soft and semi-soft) Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard Hard cheeses Refreeze Refreeze Shredded cheeses Refreeze Discard Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard Cheesecake Refreeze Discard FRUITS
Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops. Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor. Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops. VEGETABLES
Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours. Home or commercially packaged or blanched Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss. Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours. BREADS, PASTRIES
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)
Refreeze Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling Refreeze Discard Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur. Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable. OTHER
Casseroles – pasta, rice based Refreeze Discard Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze Breakfast items –waffles, pancakes, bagels Refreeze Refreeze Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie,convenience foods) Refreeze Discard
Polly Evans June 30, 2012 at 11:06 PM
How is one supposed to tell when the temperature in the refridgerator rises above 40 degrees without continually opening the door to check the thermometer which defeats the purpose of keeping the door closed? Only when the temp reaches 40 degrees can one start counting the hours it stays above 40 degrees to reach the 2 hour safe limit. Refridgerators should have an alarm to signal when the temp. goes above 40. Would be nice. Any ideas?
carroll davis July 02, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I agree, Polly. That would be wonderful, especially for folks like me who lose power every time it looks like there will be a storm. I found a refrigerator alarm on Amazon.com for $15.50. Read the reviews before making a determination. http://www.amazon.com/Temperature-Alert-Alarm-Freezer-Refrigerators/dp/B0016LFWFK
Nott tellin you August 30, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Ok people..common sense here; You don't open the fridge unless needed. then when power comes back on, that's when you determine the keep-or-throw factor. ie: power back on..go check for ice crystals etc. you should know about how long the power was off for, ergo, you should be able to determine whether something is safe or not. ALSO: When in doubt...throw it out. If you have renters insurance or homeowners insurance they most often will cover the cost of food that has spoiled due to power outages that are caused by an act of nature. Call them and ask!


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