What to Do When the Power Goes Out

We just got an email from someone in Florida who had been without power since Saturday.  Gratefully, they and their family are all right.  But what about that food that was in the refrigerator or in the freezer.  Is it salvageable?

Follow the cardinal rule—when in doubt, throw it out.  We've written several times about food safety in previous articles.  (You can review those
here.)  Remember that bacteria will start growing as soon as the food temperature reaches 40 degrees.  In a warm climate like Florida, food is only safe for one hour outside of the refrigerator. 

Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed.  An unopened refrigerator should keep foods cold for up to four hours and a freezer that is half full for 24 hours.  Evaluate each item individually when the power comes back on.  You should have an insta-read thermometer in your kitchen.  (If you don't have one, pick one up at the department store or purchase one on our site.  They are only $10 or so.)  Use the thermometer to determine the temperature of your food.  If the temperature of the item is above forty degrees and you think that it might have been so for several hours, throw it out. 

If you think the power is going to be out for more than four hours, pack meat, milk and dairy products into a cooler with lots of ice.  Depending on the climate, they may last a day or two. 

A while back, we read a story of a lady who lost the power to her freezer.  She had lots of chicken that she had bought on sale.  Rather than let it spoil, she cranked up the barbeque and cooked all the chicken.  She then went through the neighborhood sharing chicken with the residents.  Since they were all without power and meals were difficult, I bet she was really appreciated.