Hi again! It appears the warm weather may finally be starting to show itself. Yay! Soon the flowers will be blooming and… unfortunately, the skies booming. Inevitably with warm weather comes the chance for severe thunderstorms and potential power outages. With that said, what can be done to ensure our food is safe during a loss of power?
Invest in a Refrigerator Thermometer
One good investment to start with is a refrigerator thermometer. These typically cost under $5 and are valuable to have in your refrigerator at all times. A rule of thumb is to set your refrigerator temperature 3°F colder than what you want your food temperature to be. Remember “The Danger Zone” of 41°F – 140°F? For cold foods, that means we want our items to be at 41°F or lower. So, set the temp of your refrigerator to a max of 38°F to ensure your food temperatures are at 41°F or below. It is also a good idea to have a large cooler(s) with frozen gel packs on hand and/or know where block ice and dry ice is sold (this may be needed for longer power outages).
What to do when the lights go out
Now, along comes that nasty storm….lights are flickering and soon the power is out. Calling the power company and getting an estimate of when the power will be restored is an important first step. If the power will be out for less than 4 hours, typically your food items will be fine. It is important, though, to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. This helps to maintain the cold environment within these units. Opening and closing the doors only lets this valuable cold air escape. If you know severe weather is in the forecast, items currently in your refrigerator like fresh meat, poultry, leftovers, etc. could be placed in the freezer. This way they could potentially be fully frozen prior to an outage. A full freezer will maintain its temperature for 48 hours – 24 hours if it is half full. …..This is much better than the 4 hours in the refrigerator.
Power out for an extended period of time
If power will be out for an extended period of time, purchasing dry ice may prove helpful. Per USDA, 50 pounds of dry ice will keep an 18-cubic foot freezer cold for two days. Ensure you take the proper safety precautions when handling dry ice – do not handle with bare hands, do not put in direct contact with the food, etc. Visit dryicenetwork.com for other safety-related information regarding handling dry ice. Not only do we want you to keep your food safe, but you safe as well! Now remember, dry ice is really only needed when the power will be out for long period of time (more than 1-2 days) and you have a freezer full of food that you don’t want to lose. My freezer is rarely full. I don’t know if that is good or bad. The good part is, I typically end up shopping for dinner on my way home from work and visit with the fine folks at my local Coborn’s.
Power’s on, what is safe to eat?
Once the power is back on, you might wonder what to do now. Checking the freezer is the easy part, so let’s start there. Food in the freezer that is still hard to the touch is fine. Food that has thawed slightly, but still has ice crystals and product that has stayed below 41°F is also safe. Refreezing of this product is fine; however, the quality of the food may be impacted. On to the refrigerator… remember, if it has been less than 4 hours, the food will be safe to re-chill down. If power has been out for longer than 4 hours, use the following guidance from USDA to determine what needs to be thrown and what is safe to keep www.fsis.usda.gov
I hope you will find this guidance helpful. Better yet – I hope you never need to use it! A nice thunderstorm is fine, but much better without the power outages!
Coborn’s, Inc. R.D. Food Safety Coordinator
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