Keep food safety in mind after power outage
Unpredictable weather is something people can definitely count on during the spring and early summer. Lightning and thunder storms, straight line winds and tornadoes all can have a detrimental effect on electrical power.
Most are familiar with being without power for a few hours. During weather extremes, some residents have experienced what it is like to be without power for days or weeks at a time.
Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension food safety specialist, said without electricity or a cold source, foods stored in refrigerators or freezers can become unsafe.
"When perishable foods reach temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it provides the perfect environment for bacteria to grow," Brown said. "People who eat this food after it is left in the danger zone two hours or longer can become extremely ill."
A good way to know the temperature of foods is to keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and the freezer. In the event of a power outage, consumers will know if the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer drops below a safe level after a few hours. A full freezer will usually keep food frozen for 48 hours. If it is only half full it will keep the food for 24 hours. Refrigerator freezing compartments generally do not keep food frozen that long.
"If your freezer is not full when the power fails, quickly group packages of food together so they can help keep each other cold," she said. "When you do that, be sure to separate meat and poultry so they are below other foods. That way, if they begin to thaw, their juices won't drip onto ready-to-eat foods."
Brown recommends keeping your freezer full to maximize storage. If you have empty space in the freezer, fill clean juice bottles or milk containers with water and store them in the freezer. These blocks of ice can buy a person several extra hours of cold storage in the event of a power outage.
"These containers can be kept in the freezer to help keep foods frozen, or in an ice chest to keep cold foods within a safe temperature range," she said. "Freezer or gel packs also are good to keep on hand and used in coolers as well. In an effort to retain as much cold air in the refrigerator and freezer as possible, keep the doors closed. Foods can keep safely for about four hours if the refrigerator door is kept closed."
Discard refrigerated perishables such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheese, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power. Frozen items that still contain ice crystals or are at 40 degrees Fahrenheit can safely be refrozen.
"It's much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to salvaging food items following a weather emergency," Brown said. "In most cases, the power is usually restored within a few hours. However, if the outage lasts several days, be prepared to toss everything. The best rule of thumb is 'when in doubt, throw it out.'"