When experiencing an electrical power outage, food in the refrigerator and freezer can quickly become compromised if the power outage lasts more than two hours. You can take certain precautions during power outages to help prevent your food from spoiling. However, if the power outage lasts too long, chances are your food is going to spoil. It is important to understand how long food can last in the refrigerator and freezer because if you consume spoiled food you are at risk for illness.
Foods That Spoil Quickly
The consequences of spoiled food include many food borne illnesses. When the temperature reaches above 41 degrees Fahrenheit in freezers and refrigerators, the bacteria that cause food borne illnesses can quickly multiply. Certain foods have an increased risk of spoiling during electrical power outages. High protein foods are among the quickest foods to spoil. These foods include meats, eggs, and dairy. Cooked vegetables can also spoil very quickly.
To try and prevent the consequences of spoiled food, there are a few things you can do to save the food in your freezer. The main thing you can do is to leave the freezer door shut. Each time the freezer door opens, the faster the temperature will drop. If you have a freezer that is completely full of food, the food should remain safe for about two days. If your freezer is only half full, the food will remain safe for only one day. If you know your power will be off for an extended amount of time, you can add bags of ice to the freezer to keep the temperature down.
As with freezer foods, it is important to leave your refrigerator door shut while the power is off. Food in the refrigerator spoils faster than food in the freezer. Food in the refrigerator is only safe for about four to six hours. Throw out any food that looks strange, has an odd odor, or an unusual texture.
If the temperature rises above 41 degrees Fahrenheit there are foods you should not take the risk with and eat. Meats, fish, and poultry, that are either raw or cooked, should be thrown out. Eggs and egg substitutes should not be consumed if the temperature rises too high.
Dairy products such as milk, soft cheeses, and cream cheese can spoil if the temperature rises too high. Lunch meat and hot dogs should also be thrown out. Whipped butter will not remain safe to eat either if the temperature rises too high.
Casseroles, stews, and soups should not be consumed once the temperature has reached 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The same goes for any creamy based foods. Cut fruit and cooked vegetables will not remain safe once the temperature has risen. Custard, pies, creamed filled pastries, and cookie dough will also not be safe to eat.
Foods to Save
Certain foods will remain safe at room temperature for a few days and still be safe to eat. Some of these foods include butter, margarine, hard cheeses, and uncut fruit and vegetables. Many condiments will remain safe to consume at room temperature. Fruit juices along with fresh herbs and spices can be saved after a power outage. Fresh bread, muffins, and rolls are safe to eat if they are kept at room temperature.
Once the power has returned, you can check the internal temperature of foods to determine if they are still safe to eat. It is important to remember, if in doubt throw it out. Keeping this information in mind during a power outage can help decrease your chance of ingesting the bacteria that causes food borne illnesses.
“Food Safety Center” Minnesota Department of Health
“Power Outages and Food Safety” Health Services
Photo: “Freezer” By Mr. Write MorgurFile