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Food safety tips for after a prolonged power outage

By the time you read this, if you’ve been without power on Thursday morning and weren’t able to connect your refrigerator or freezer to a generator, the perishable food inside likely has spoiled.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that a refrigerator will keep food at a safe temperature for only about four hours without power. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours after the power goes off (24 hours if it is half full).

The No. 1 safety tip from the USDA for deciding what to keep and what to toss is never taste food to determine its safety — when in doubt, throw it out.

Here are some more tips from the USDA:

REFRIGERATED FOODS

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
  • 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 more than 8 hours.
  • Discard any foods 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.

The following foods may be safe after a power outage:

  • High-acid foods such as mustard, ketchup, relishes, pickles, non-creamy salad dressings, jams and jellies generally will be safe to eat — though they may spoil sooner.
  • whole fruits and vegetables (fresh)
  • fruit and vegetable juices (unopened)
  • baked goods such as fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins, and cakes (except those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings)
  • hard and processed cheeses;
  • butter and margarine
  • fresh herbs and spices

FROZEN FOODS

The following foods may be safe after a power outage:

  • Frozen foods that have partly thawed, but still contain ice crystals.
  • Foods that have remained at refrigerator temperatures — 40°F or below. They may be safely refrozen, but their quality may suffer.
  • Foods that were frozen — but don't require freezing, such as bread and baked goods.

REMOVING ODORS FROM REFRIGERATORS AND FREEZERS

  • Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.
  • Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. 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.
  • Leave the door open for about 15 minutes.
  • Repeat if needed.

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

  • Wipe the inside of the unit with equal parts 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.

Find more information at http://www.fsis.usda.gov.

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