Food Safety After a Power Outage
An electrical power outage will affect the safe storage of refrigerated and frozen foods. Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are not properly refrigerated or stored, and frozen food that thaws, may cause illness if consumed. In order to protect these perishable foods from spoilage, follow the guidelines listed below. When the power goes out:
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep foods cold for 2-4 hours if it is unopened. Full freezers will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (1/2 full 12 hours) if the door remains closed. These times may vary depending on age of the unit, condition of the seals, temperature setting and amount of food.
- Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometer and appliance thermometers will help you know if the food is at a safe temperature.
- Before eating perishable refrigerated foods (milk, cheeses, eggs, meats, fish, or poultry) be sure to check their temperature. Foods that are 41º F or below can be eaten and are considered safe. Foods that are above 41ºF for more than 2 hours must be discarded. Do Not Eat. Don’t trust your sense of smell. Food may be unsafe even if it doesn’t smell bad.
- Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still 41º F or re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals or is below 41º F. You have to evaluate each food item separately. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat.
- If the power is out for longer than 4 hours, use dry ice. 25 pounds of dry ice will keep a ten cubic foot freezer below freezing for 3-4 days. Handle dry ice with care and wear dry heavy gloves to avoid injury.
- Follow the golden rule of food safety, “When in Doubt, Throw it Out”, for any foods which you are not sure have stayed at a safe temperature or which do not look or smell as they should.
For more information on food safety after a power outage, visit the health department’s website, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hd/alert/emerg/emerinfofood02.htm, or call the Fairfax County Health Department at 703-246-2444.