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Food Safety During and After a Power Outage
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Well, we’ve just had our first power outage of the season on the Old Mission Peninsula. Oh, I know we probably had some outages earlier this year during the second half of winter, but the storm that blew through the OMP over the past couple of days is a good reminder of what might be in store for us this winter.

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Plus, the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a harsh, cold winter … brrrrr … with I’m sure a few power outages here and there to remind us how totally dependent we are on the electrical grid.

The USDA must be keeping track of us, because in my inbox this morning was a press release about food safety tips for power outages. Good timing, USDA! Although, ok, if I’d received it a couple days ago, that would have been even better.

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Nonetheless, here are the USDA’s recommendations for reducing food waste and keeping ourselves healthy after a storm knocks out power to the fridge and freezer.

FOOD SAFETY – PLAN AHEAD

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and freezer. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is at 40°F or below and the freezer is at 0°F or below.
  • Group foods together in both the refrigerator and freezer. This helps foods stay cold longer.
  • Keep the freezer full. Fill empty spaces with frozen plastic jugs of water, bags of ice or gel packs.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately, such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry. This will keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Have a large, insulated cooler and frozen gel packs available. Perishable foods will stay safe in a refrigerator only 4 hours.
  • Find out where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

DURING A POWER OUTAGE

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours. If the power is off longer, you can transfer food to a cooler and fill with ice or frozen gel packs. Make sure there is enough ice to keep food in the cooler at 40°F or below. Add more ice to the cooler as it begins to melt.
  • A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
  • Obtain dry ice or block ice if your power is going to be out for a prolonged period. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot freezer for 2 days. (Caution: Do not touch dry ice with bare hands or place it in direct contact with food.)
  • In freezers, food in the front, in the door, or in small, thin packages will defrost faster than large, thick items or food in the back or bottom of the unit.
  • During a snowstorm, do not place perishable food out in the snow. Outside temperatures can vary, and food may be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals. Instead, make ice. Fill buckets, empty milk containers, or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Use the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer or coolers.

AFTER A POWER OUTAGE

Never taste food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out!

REFRIGERATED FOODS – UNSAFE TO EAT

Discard the following if your refrigerator has been without power for more than 4 hours:

  • Raw, cooked, or leftover meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes
  • Luncheon meat and hot dogs
  • Casseroles, soups, stews, and pizza
  • Mixed salads (i.e., chicken, tuna, macaroni, potato)
  • Gravy and stuffing
  • Milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, and soft cheeses
  • Cut fruits and vegetables (fresh)
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Fruit and vegetable juices (opened)
  • Creamy-based salad dressing
  • Batters and doughs (i.e., pancake batter, cookie dough)
  • Custard, chiffon, or cheese pies
  • Cream-filled pastries
  • Garlic stored in oil

Discard opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and horseradish if they were held above 50 °F for over 8 hours.

Discard any foods like bread or salad greens that may have become contaminated by juices dripping from raw meat, poultry, or fish.

In general, if any food has an unusual odor, color or texture, throw it out.

REFRIGERATED FOODS – SAFE TO EAT

  • High-acid foods such as mustard, ketchup, relishes, pickles, non-creamy salad dressings, jams, and jellies; however, they may spoil sooner.
  • Foods that don’t actually require refrigeration. These foods may be used unless they turn moldy or have an unusual odor.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables (fresh)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices (unopened)
  • Dried fruits and coconut
  • Baked goods such as fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins, and cake (except those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings)
  • Hard and processed cheeses
  • Butter and margarine
  • Fresh herbs and spices
  • Flour
  • Nuts

FROZEN FOODS – SAFE TO EAT

Frozen foods that have thawed, but still contain ice crystals.

Foods that have remained at refrigerator temperatures — 40°F or below. They may be safely refrozen; however, their quality may suffer.

Foods that don’t actually need to be frozen. These foods may be used unless they turn moldy or have an unusual odor:

  • Dried fruits and coconut
  • Baked goods including fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins, and cakes (except for those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings)
  • Hard and processed cheeses
  • Butter and margarine
  • Fruit juices
  • Nuts

Never taste food to determine its safety. WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!

REMOVING ODORS FROM REFRIGERATORS AND FREEZERS

The following steps may have to be repeated several times:

  • Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.
  • Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Then rinse with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the door and gaskets, with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with a sanitizing solution (see above).
  • Leave the door open for about 15 minutes.

If odor remains, try any or all of the following:

  • Wipe the inside of the unit with equal parts of vinegar and water to destroy mildew.
  • Leave the door open and allow to air out for several days.
  • Stuff the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers. Keep the door closed for several days. Remove the newspaper and clean with vinegar and water.
  • Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the unit.
  • Use a commercial product available at hardware and houseware stores. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: If odors still remain, the unit may need to be discarded.

Here’s a little video that the USDA Food Safety put together:

The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides relevant food safety information during disasters on Twitter,  @USDAFoodSafety and Facebook.

If you have questions about food safety during severe weather, or any other food safety topics, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888MPHotline or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov. These services are available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Answers to frequently asked question can also be found 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.

On a related note, there’s a useful app called “FoodKeeper” that tells you whether your leftovers are still good.

FOOD SAFETY LINKS

Our local chapter of the American Red Cross or Civil Defense can also offer additional information about emergency management.

And last but not least, here’s an infographic that spells out all of the above. If you click on the image below, it’ll give you a little bigger one in case you’d like to print it off and put it on your fridge.

usda, food safety, fsis, power outage, old mission peninsula, old mission, old mission michigan, peninsula township, food safety storm, old mission gazette, northwest michigan, traverse city
Food Safety During and After a Power Outage | USDA Infographic

 

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