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Power outages: keep food safe

Media Contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237, ced@umn.edu

ST. PAUL, MN (7/3/2012) —With no electricity in thousands of homes after recent storms, keeping food safe is a challenge for many families. Debbie Botzek-Linn, University of Minnesota Extension food safety educator, has some tips to help you meet the challenge:

Refrigerator

  • Without power, refrigerators keep food cool for four to six hours.
  • Place block of ice in a container in the refrigerator to keep food cooler.
  • Do not open the refrigerator again.
  • If you anticipate a long power outage, use insulated containers to transport food to a working cooler or refrigerator.

Freezer
  • If power is interrupted or the freezer fails to operate properly, do NOT open the freezer unnecessarily.
  • If the freezer is filled with food and you keep the door closed, the food will stay frozen about two days. If the freezer is not full, group packages together so they stay cold longer.
  • If you know the power may go off, turn the freezer control to the lowest temperature. If you might have several days without power, act quickly. Get dry ice and put it in the freezer before food starts to thaw. Dry ice is listed in the yellow pages of phone directories. For a 20-cubic-feet, full freezer, 50 pounds of dry ice keeps food frozen about four days. If the freezer is only half-full, food may not stay frozen more than a day. With dry ice it may stay frozen for three days. To use dry ice, place cardboard on top of the food. Put the dry ice on top of the cardboard. Handle it with gloves and have the room well ventilated. Caution: be certain of good ventilation in the room. Carbon dioxide gas can accumulate and cause loss of consciousness/asphyxiation.
  • If power will be out more than a few days, transfer foods as quickly as possible to another freezer or a commercial locker.

Once the Power is Restored
  • Check temperatures of food in refrigerator and freezer. If food is above 40 degrees, you need to determine how long they were at 40 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check food item. If the food items were at temperatures above 40 degrees longer than two hours, throw away the food.
  • For frozen foods, look for ice crystals and check temperature.
  • Throw away perishables such as meat and poultry leftovers.
  • Never taste food to determine their safety!

Do Not Refreeze
  • Food that has thawed completely, especially meat, poultry and seafood
  • Prepared, cooked foods such as pizza, hot dishes, stews and soups
  • Any food that has poor or questionable color or odor
  • Thawed vegetables
  • Creamed foods, pudding or other low-acid foods that have thawed
  • Melted ice cream

Safe to Refreeze
  • Foods that still contain ice crystals
  • Thawed fruit if it still smells good
  • Bread, cake, cookies, plain doughnuts
  • Nuts, flour, cereal
  • Raw meat and poultry that has thawed but is still 40 degrees or less
  • Juice
  • Margarine, butter
  • Cheese

For more information on recovery from storms, visit www.extension.umn.edu/extreme-weather, or contact Extension's AnswerLine at 800-854-1678 or answer@iastate.edu with questions.

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