By Gina Noe
You have seen this article before, but the information is worth reading again. The food in refrigerators and freezers represents a significant investment.
Winter storms can cause power outages that may last from a few hours to several days before electricity can be restored. Without electricity or a cold source, foods stored in refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe.
Bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and if these foods are consumed, people can become very sick.
Here are a few steps to protect your food investment and your family.
Before the weather emergency
• Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
• Make sure the freezer is at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below and the refrigerator is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
• Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
• Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
• Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
• Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
• Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
Steps to follow after the weather emergency
• 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) and the door remains closed.
• Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power.
• Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below when checked with a food thermometer.
• Never taste a food to determine its safety!
• Obtain dry ice or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
• If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
• If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
• When in doubt, throw it out!
Consumers with food safety questions can ask Karen, the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
Educational programs of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.