Power outages can occur for a variety of reasons but as the possibility of severe storms increase, so might the chance of experiencing a power outage. Fortunately, there are steps to take before, during, and after an outage that can keep foods from becoming unsafe. The OSU Extension office often receives questions about food safety so I thought it might be helpful to share some tips and resources on this topic related to power outages. A variety of resources from the CDC, FDA, and USDA share similar suggestions which include the following:
- Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerators should be kept at 40º F or below and freezers should be 0º F or below. Ensuring these temperatures keeps food safe longer during an outage and thermometers will help determine if food is safe. Food should not be kept above 40º F for more than two hours. This includes the time it takes to get food back under 40º F.
- Utilize freezer packs or freeze containers of water ahead of time. These items help keep food cold longer during an outage and may be used to keep food cold in a cooler.
- Have a cooler in case of an extended outage (4+ hours). If the cooler is needed, fill with ice and/or freezer packs to keep food at or below 40º F.
- When possible, prepare ahead by freezing perishable foods like meat, milk, and leftovers. These foods will stay safe longer during an outage if frozen.
- For prolonged power outages, consider buying dry or block ice. According to the USDA, fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Opening appliance doors will release cold air and decrease safe storage time.
- If the doors remain closed, a full refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours, and a full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours; 24 hours if half full.
- Once the power has been out for four hours, transfer perishable foods in the refrigerator to a cooler and cover with ice to maintain a temperature of 40º F or below.
- If at any point the food is above 40º F for two hours or more, or one hour if temperatures are above 90 º F, discard it.
- Check the temperature of the refrigerator, freezer, and cooler if used. If temperatures are under 40º F, foods are safe to keep or refreeze. If temperatures are above 40º F, discard food. Although foods held above 40º F for a short amount of time can be safe, if unsure how long food has been in temperatures above 40º F, discard the food. While it’s difficult to throw out food, it’s better to be safe than risk becoming sick.
- If any foods have an unusual odor, color, texture, or feels warm to the touch, throw it out. Never taste food to determine if it’s safe to eat. Again, when in doubt, throw it out.
- Generally, if power was out for four hours or less, refrigerated food should be safe if the door was kept closed.
- Keep in mind, 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.
- To determine the safety of specific foods, check out foodsafety.gov for food safety power outage charts.
Hopefully these tips provide a useful guidance for navigating food safety during a power outage, but circumstances vary so if there’s ever any question about food safety feel free to reach out to Wayne County OSU Extension at 330-264-8722.
Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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