Roanna Martin

"make [food] simple and let things taste of what they are." {Curnonsky}

Food Safety During Power Outages

2 Comments

I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and talk about what everyone else has been talking about the past few days: Sandy. The “frankenstorm” that hit the northeast, leaving millions without power, has also hit the home where I live.
I woke up early yesterday morning to peek outside before reporting to the hospital for work, and being the snow-bunny that I am, my eyes were delighted with what they saw.
Before the busy-ness of the day started, I took a few moments just to savor the glorious white of the powdery film on the trees.  When I was little I would wake up EARLY on two hour delays to go out and play in the snow, and I am still a big fan of winter activities: cross country skiing and ice skating being at the top of the list. So although I’m not quite accustomed to a snowstorm at the end of October, I wasn’t completely opposed.
Then a resounding “CRACK” and a faint flash captured my attention. A limb fell in the front yard, and the “host dad” that I’m staying with attributed the flashes to exploding transformers.
The reality of a storm isn’t always pretty. And this is a record-breaker- I don’t have to pull together the stats for you- it’s all over the news.
And I’m sure it’s hit home for a lot of my readers, considering how widespread it was!
When refrigerator and freezer units lose power, temperature will rise, bringing food into the danger zonewhere bacteria  grow most rapidly.


Here are some recommendations from the USDA for after a power outage:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours unopened, and a full freezer can maintain temp for about 48 hours (24 hours if half full) and you keep the door closed.
  • The following perishable foods should be discarded after 4 hours without power:
    • meat
    • poultry
    • fish
    • soft cheeses
    • milk
    • leftovers
    • deli items
  • Food can be safely refrozen if it still has ice crystals, or is lower than 40 degrees Farenheit.

My recommendation is that if you have some meat that has thawed  to just above 40 and your power has come back on, go ahead and cook it up, and then quickly chill and refreeze it. It’s no different than if you had intentionally been defrosting meat to cook.
Here’s a picture of the fridge- which was without power for more than 4 hours. The only things we left in the fridge were things that don’t really need to be stored below 40 degrees, such as carrots, bread, apples, condiments, etc (and my “host dad’s” bottled Starbucks cappucino!).


If the weather is less than 40 degrees outside, and you have a safe place to keep food where animals won’t get to it- you can set food outside for a short while (This statement is not taken from the USDA- this is my own common sense speaking).
And what exactly does one eat during a power outage? Well, last night we fired up the grill for some fantastic turkey burgers, and the grill even has a gas burner so we were able to cook up some green beans, and finish off the lettuce that was in the fridge.
Don’t take any chances- never taste food to test safety. If in doubt, throw it out!

Food safety recommendations courtesy of the WVU Extension Service.

ps. To write this post I visited a nearby Panera (we’re still without power!), and a lot of others here are without power as well. For example, there’s a little 4-year-old girl singing a song about “Susy has power”… And there’s a long line- I don’t usually go out to eat during the week, but the staff are yelling “No more potato soup!” Everyone’s ready for some hot and tasty food, and a warm place to enjoy it.

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Author: roannamartinwvudietetics12

A dietetic intern with a love of learning, an enjoyment of food, and a passion for people.

2 thoughts on “Food Safety During Power Outages

  1. We got the other end of Sandy – the wind that I thought for sure would knock my house over. Luckily we didn’t lose power at my house but my rotation is at the health bureau and the dietitian was out checking on restaurants, etc who did lose power to make sure everyone threw out their spoiled foods.

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