Hurricanes, heat waves and other natural disasters increase the risk of power outages. And if the electricity goes out for an extended period of time, food in your fridge and freezer can spoil and become unsafe to eat. If the financial impact of losing a fridge full of food is hard to swallow, the impact on your health of food poisoning – especially if you’re elderly – is even harder to bear.

During a power outage, it is essential to know how long the food in your fridge and freezer will remain safe to eat. It’s also essential to know the steps you can take to assess the safety of your food and keep it as long as possible. Follow these eight tips from food safety experts to avoid getting sick from spoiled food during a power outage.

Before a power outage:

  1. Keep the refrigerator at 4°C or lower and the freezer at -17°C or lower. This will allow you to preserve the quality of your food a little longer if you lose electricity. Once the internal temperature of refrigerated and frozen foods rises above 4 degrees, the germs that cause foodborne illness can begin to multiply.
  2. Buy dry ice or ice packs to help keep your food cold in the fridge longer. Having a cooler and frozen gel packs on hand can be useful if you need to remove food from the refrigerator to keep it cold.

During a power outage:

  1. Keep your freezer and refrigerator doors closed as much as possible. Food is safe to store for up to 48 hours in a full freezer, 24 hours in a semi-full freezer, and up to four hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Transfer refrigerated foods to a cooler if the power has been out for four hours. Keep the temperature of the cooler at 4 degrees or lower using ice or a frozen gel pack.

After a power failure:

  1. Never taste a food to see if it is still good. There may be germs that cause food poisoning even though the food looks, smells or tastes normal.
  2. Refreeze or cook frozen foods if they still contain ice crystals or if their temperature is below 4 degrees on a food thermometer. Otherwise, discard foods that are too hot or have an odd smell, texture, or color.
  3. Throw away perishable foods. Pay particular attention to foods such as meat, fish, cut fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk and leftovers if the electricity is out for more than four hours without an additional cold source. If you’ve had a flood, throw away any raw food that has come in contact with the water.
  4. Clean and sanitize kitchen items and surfaces that have been flooded, such as dishes, utensils, the refrigerator drawer, or kitchen counters. Wash them first with clean, soapy water, then disinfect them with a bleach solution.

Foods to be kept at a temperature above 4 degrees for more than two hours.

  • Hard cheeses
  • Processed cheeses
  • Grated Parmesan and/or Romano in a jar or can.
  • Butter, margarine
  • Fresh uncut fruit
  • Juice
  • canned fruit
  • Dried fruits, raisins, candied fruits, dates.
  • Open mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish (unless the temperature is above 50 degrees for more than eight hours).
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles.
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue and hoisin sauces.
  • Vinegar based dressings
  • Fruit pies
  • Uncut vegetables
  • Mushrooms, herbs, spices

Frozen foods that are safe to refrozen if thawed and at a temperature above 4 degrees for more than two hours.

  • Home-grown or packaged fruit (unless mold or slime is visible)
  • Packaged or blanched vegetables at home or in stores (discard after six hours)
  • Breads, rolls, muffins (without pastry cream filling)
  • Pie dough, commercial or homemade bread dough
  • Flour, cornmeal, nuts
  • Waffles, pancakes, bagels

Foods to throw away after a natural disaster.

  • Foods that are abnormal in smell, color or texture.
  • Food in packaging that is not airtight.
  • Food in cardboard containers.
  • Food containers with screw caps, snap caps, twist caps and snap caps.
  • Cans or containers that are bulging, open or damaged.
* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.