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Power Outages And Food Safety

Our house was pitch black and silent due to a power outage. The wind was howling loudly outside, and a tornado warning was in effect.

My family and I had made our way carefully to the basement, and we were huddled in the safety of my windowless arts and crafts room. My two older kids had grabbed blankets and pillows. My husband brought a battery-operated lantern, a flashlight and a radio tuned to the weather.

We listened to the radio and waited until the all-clear announcement was given, then we made our way upstairs guided by the flashlight. We had to wait quite a while for the power to resume.

How can you keep food safe when the power goes out? These are some questions and answers based on information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These rules would apply for food during a power outage or an appliance failure. If someone accidentally leaves the freezer door partially open, these rules would work, too.

Question:The food in my freezer began to thaw during the power outage. Is it safe to eat?

Answer:In general, food with ice crystals can be refrozen. Be sure to keep an appliance thermometer in both your freezer and refrigerator so you know the temperature. Freezers should maintain food at -17.7 C (0 F) or lower. Refrigerators should maintain food at 4.4 C (40 F) or lower.

Question:I just found out our power outage is going to last 24 hours. I have a freezer full of meat. What can I do?

Answer:Keep the freezer closed at all times. Food will remain frozen in a full freezer for about two days, while a half-full freezer will stay at freezer temperature for about a day. If your freezer isn t full, you can group your packages to form an igloo around each other, but work quickly to avoid warming the freezer. You also might put the food on trays so the juices don t drip on other packages.

You can keep your freezer cold longer if you pick up some ice or dry ice to maintain the cold temperature. Blocks of ice will keep the food cold longer than bags of ice cubes. Fifty pounds of dry ice will keep an 18-cubic-foot full freezer cold for two days. Moving your food in coolers to another location also would be an option.

Question:Our power was out for almost four hours. What foods in my refrigerator are most perishable?

Answer:Meat, poultry, fish, milk and most leftovers are considered highly perishable because they are high in protein and moisture. Condiments, such as ketchup, mustard and soy sauce, remain safe. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food will remain cold in a refrigerator without power for about four hours. Your food should be fine as long as you kept the refrigerator door closed.

Regardless of power outages, be sure to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer regularly to be sure they are keeping your food fresh and safe.

JulieGarden-Robinson,PhD,R.D.,L.R.D.,isaNorthDakotaStateUniversityExtensionServicefoodandnutritionspecialistandassociateprofessorinthedepartmentofhealth,nutritionandexercisesciences

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