I know many residents along the East Coast are dealing with widespread power outages after Hurricane Irene passed over them this weekend. After experiencing many power outages myself, I have realized that something I often don't think about, sometimes even after the power has come back on, is making sure that the food in my refrigerator and freezer is still safe to eat.
I found some great tips from the USDA that might be helpful for those of you who are still waiting for the power to come back on. They are also great things for everyone to keep in mind since a power outage can happen anywhere at any time.
Steps to follow after a 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 4 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 4 hours without power.
• Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40ºF or below when checked with a food thermometer.
• Never taste food to determine its safety!
• Obtain dry 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 40ºF 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.
• Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
• Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
• Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Replace more instructions here for saving all-metal cans and retort pouches.
• Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!