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Power Outage Food Safety

Maintaining food safety isn’t as glamorous as serving up a sizzling steak or an elegant tiramisu. But it’s the most important thing you do in the kitchen—and it’s harder during a power outage. No lights, no electricity—no way of getting food hot, or ensuring it stays properly chilled. Take a moment to look at the tips below for general rules and food specifics. You also may want to look at our main food safety page and take a safety quiz afterwards. (Note: Most people get #6 wrong!).

General Safety Rules

  • Keep flashlights accessible throughout the house and make sure everyone in the family knows where they are. Have extra batteries on hand.
  • Be careful with lit candles. Keep pets and children out of their reach. Do not walk around the house with lit candles—use flashlights.
  • Stock your pantry with nonperishable foods, beverages and bottled water in winter. Keep at least a three-day supply on hand. Common beverages and foods include Capri Sun Beverages, Kool-Aid Soft Drink and Soft Drink Mix, Country Time Drink Mix, Crystal Light Low Calorie Soft Drink Mix, unopened Velveeta Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product and Kraft Handi-Snacks Snack Combinations.
  • Keep a non-electric can opener on hand.
  • Do not rely on appearance or odor to check for spoilage. Never taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine but still contain enough bacteria to cause problems. Keep a food thermometer on hand so you can check the temperature of foods—if warmer than 40°F, discard them.
  • Foods that can be prone to bacterial growth include meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and egg products, and cooked beans, rice, potatoes and pasta. If these foods are warmer than 40°F, discard them. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Foods stored in the refrigerator that are usually OK after several hours without power include hard cheeses, fruit and opened containers of salad dressing, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and fruit juice. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • When power is restored, check foods to determine their quality before they have a chance to cool down or refreeze. If they’ve warmed up, recooling will not ensure they’re safe to eat.

Refrigerator and Freezer Safety Tips

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible during a power outage to prevent cold air from escaping.
  • Refrigerated foods are safe to eat if they’ve been kept at 40°F or lower. If the power is out for only a few hours and the door is kept closed, the food should remain at a proper temperature.
  • During an extended outage, use perishable foods from the refrigerator first, frozen foods second and nonperishable foods last.
  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator. If it registers higher than 40°F, food may have started to spoil.
  • When power returns, let the refrigerator reach the proper temperature of 40°F or lower before restocking it.
  • A full freezer can remain at freezing temperature for about two days; a half-full freezer, for about one day.
  • If frozen foods thaw but are still 40°F or colder, use or refreeze them as soon as possible. Refreezing may compromise the quality of some foods, but they will still be safe to eat.
  • If your freezer is not full, quickly group packages together to keep them cold longer. Exception: Separate meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or place on trays so their juices will not contaminate other foods if they thaw.
  • Thoroughly clean the interiors of the refrigerator and freezer after removing spoiled or thawed foods. Start with soap and warm water, then disinfect with a solution of 3/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach mixed with 1 gallon warm water.

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Hearty Meat Ragoût

power outage food safety
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