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Food Safety During Power Outages

Updated:
TULSA, OK – Many Oklahomans are facing the aftermath of the ice storm without electricity.

“As the cleanup begins across the state, families could possibly be left without electricity for several days. In this event, you may wonder what foods can still safely be consumed or refrozen and what things should be thrown out,” says Charlotte Richert, Tulsa County OSU Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences.

Food management during a power outage:

1. Keep the refrigerator or freezer door closed to keep what cold air you have inside. Do not open the door any more than necessary. A full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures about two days. A half-full freezer will stay at freezing temperature about one day.

2. Open the freezer door for only two reasons. First, if the power goes out and your freezer is not full, open the freezer and quickly group packages so they form an "igloo" to protect each other. Place meat, fish and poultry to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won't get on other food. Close the door as quickly as possible. Secondly, if power is out for a longer time, place some dry ice in the freezer.

3. When electricity is restored, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. This will remove the guesswork of just how warm the freezer became. The key to determining the safety of foods in the refrigerator and freezer is knowing how cold they are. Although refrigerator temperature should be 40°F or below, freezers should be at 0°F or lower.

4. Even if food has started to thaw, some foods may be safe. The foods in your freezer that partially or completely thaw before power is restored may be safely refrozen if they still contain ice crystals or are 40°F or colder. You will have to evaluate each item separately. See the charts below for guidelines on storing different kinds of frozen foods. Generally, be very careful with meat and poultry products or any food containing milk, cream, sour cream, or soft cheese. After reviewing the chart below, if you are still in doubt, throw it out.

5. Refreezing may affect quality and taste. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some foods. Raw meats and poultry from the freezer can usually be refrozen without too much quality loss. Prepared foods, vegetables, and fruits can normally be refrozen, but there may be some quality loss. Fruit juices can be refrozen safely without much quality loss, but frozen fruit will become mushy.

“Most meat, poultry and seafood can be refrozen if the product still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as it if were refrigerated,” Richert said. “If the meat has thawed and been held above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours it should be discarded.”

Dairy products such as hard cheeses, milk, casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs or soft cheese and cheesecake can be refrozen as long as the foods still contain some ice crystals. If these products reach a temperature of 40 degrees or more for more than two hours, it is best to throw them away.

The only exception is hard cheese such as cheddar, Swiss or parmesan. Fruits and vegetables typically can be refrozen as long as they have not been held above 40 degrees for more than six hours.

“Foods such as flour, cornmeal and nuts can be refrozen even if they have reached 40 degrees for more than two hours,” Brown said.

Oftentimes during a storm emergency such as what parts of Oklahoma are facing now, foods can spoil in refrigerators and freezers because of the loss of electricity.

Food spoilage can cause strong food odors to develop. To help eliminate odors, wash the interior walls of the freezer with a mixture of one cup vinegar and one gallon of water.

Another option is to use one cup of household ammonia per gallon of water, or one-half cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

“It’s important that you don’t mix any of these household chemicals because they can produce toxic fumes which may be fatal,” she said.

All interior removable parts should be taken out and washed with mild soap and water. If odors persist, fill a shallow container with vinegar and set it in the freezer for several hours. This process may need to be repeated for several days in order to remove the odor. Change the vinegar every eight hours.

There are other products designed to eliminate odors. Activated charcoal will absorb lingering odors. Fill a shallow ban with the charcoal and let it sit for several days. Once the odor disappears, rinse and dry the interior of the freezer before replacing the food.

“Extreme weather is difficult to deal with, and helping ensure your family is eating food that is safe for them is just one more thing you have to deal with in those circumstances,” Richert said. “Anytime you have a question regarding the safety of the food that has been in your freezer following a power outage, you may be better off discarding it. When in doubt, throw it out.”

Watch the video: Food Safety Tips

For more information on when to save food and when to throw it out, click here.

Check out, www.cdc.gov for more information on emergency preparedness.
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