If your electricity is out for more than two hours, it is important to know how to make sure the foods in your refrigerator and freezer are safe.
Once the electricity goes off, the average full freezer will hold temperatures for 48 hours,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
A half-full freezer will hold a freezing temperature for 24 hours. “You can extend this time by filling the freezer with newspaper or blankets as soon as the electricity goes off,” Roberts said. Only open the freezer door when absolutely necessary.
Once the electricity comes back on, check the food. Foods that still have ice crystals are OK to refreeze. “It is also OK to refreeze if the thermometer in the freezer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less,” she said. Discard food from the freezer if it has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours.
Unfortunately, the refrigerator can only maintain a safe temperature for around four hours. Most refrigerated food that has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours should be discarded. This includes raw or cooked meat, poultry and fish; milk, yogurt, soft cheese and cream-based foods; cracked or hard-cooked eggs; and casseroles, stews and soups.
Refrigerated foods that last longer at temperatures above 40 degrees include hard cheeses, processed cheeses, peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles, barbecue sauce, fruits and fresh vegetables.
Condiments such as opened jars of mayonnaise, tartar sauce or horseradish should be pitched if they were above 50 degrees for more than eight hours.
You should toss any foods with an unusual smell, of course, but a lack of odor is no guarantee that food is safe. “If you are not sure how long a food was above 40 degrees, be safe and throw it out,” Roberts said. “Anyone who has ever suffered from a foodborne illness will tell you that it is not worth it to save the food.”
Susan Mills-Gray, MU Extension nutrition and health education specialist, suggests posting the following chart or similar reference near your freezer and/or refrigerator:
Toss these foods if kept more than two hours above 40 degrees
- Raw or cooked meat, poultry, fish, tofu
- Meat, poultry or fish based salads
- Hard cooked or cracked eggs
- Egg substitutes
- Milk, cream, yogurt, soft cheese, shredded cheese
- Casseroles, stews, soups, pizza
- Gravy, stuffing, broth
- Lunch meats, hot dogs, sausage, bacon
- Cream-based salad dressings
- Custard, chiffon or cheese pies
- Cream-filled pastries
- Refrigerated biscuits, rolls or cookie dough
- Open baby formula
- Opened vegetable juice
- Cooked vegetables
- Prepackaged salads/greens
- Pasta, egg or potato salads
- Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish need to be thrown away if they were held above 50 degrees for more than 8 hours.
The following foods can be kept at room temperature a few days. Toss if they turn moldy or have an unusual odor.
- Butter and margarine
- BBQ and steak sauces
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Ketchup and mustard
- Fruit juices
- Non-cream-filled or non-cream-cheese frosted cakes
- Opened bottles of vinegar-based salad dressings
- Taco sauce/salsa
- Hard and processed cheese
- Fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins
- Dried fruits, coconut
- Peanut butter
- Olives and pickles