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Keeping Your Food Safe When the Lights Go Out

A couple weeks ago I got home from work to find that all of my clocks were flashing… and we all know what that means!  Luckily my power wasn’t out for long, but it did make me think about what would happen if I were without electricity for a few hours instead of minutes.  The only thing I would really be concerned about right away is how to keep the food cold in my refrigerator and freezer.  It’s important to be prepared for these types of situations and know how to react in the event that a power outage takes place (which is bound to happen to you sooner or later with the crazy weather we have here in Wisconsin!). Below are some basic tips from the FDA for keeping your food safe when the power goes out:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
    • The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
    • A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

Once the power is restored:

  • Determine if your food is safe to eat
    • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer 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 its safety. 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 or cook.
    • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.

If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it's important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed.  However, if at any point the food was above 40 °F for 2 hours or more — discard it. Keep in mind that perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.

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