How safe is your food after a weather emergency?

You have survived a weather emergency, but did your food?

Spring is right around the corner. During the spring and summer, Mother Nature tends to be unpredictable and even violent. You have just survived one of Mother Nature’s temper tantrums. However, the power went out, leaving you wondering about the safety of your food and water.

During the power outage you were diligent and kept the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. If the power outage was temporary or less than four hours, the food in the refrigerator should be OK. If the power was out longer than four hours the food should have been transferred to coolers and filled with enough ice to keep the food below 40 degree Fahrenheit. As the ice melted, it should have been replenished. A full freezer will keep its temperature for 48 hours. If the freezer is only half full, it will maintain temperature for 24 hours.

If the power was out longer than 48 hours, dry or block ice should have been used to help keep food cold. Fifty pounds of dry ice will hold an 18-cubic foot freezer for two days.

Even though you did all of the right things the power was out for longer than 48 hours, now what?

Michigan State University Extension recommends NEVER taste food to determine its safety! When in doubt, throw it out! If you’re unsure, use this list to help determine what foods should be disposed of if the power was out for longa than four hours:

  • Raw, cooked or leftover meat, fish, poultry and eggs. This includes egg substitutes.
  • Deli meats and hot dogs
  • Casseroles, soups, stews and pizza
  • Mixed salads including chicken, macaroni, potato and tuna
  • Gravy and stuffing
  • Dairy products
  • Fresh cut fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Opened fruit and vegetable juices
  • Creamy-based salad dressings
  • Batter and dough, such as pancake batter and cookie dough.
  • Creamed-filled pastries
  • Garlic stored in oil

If the power was off for more than eight hours and the the refrigerator was above 50 F, opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish need to be thrown away as well. If any foods like bread or salad greens have become contaminated by dripping juices from raw meat, fish or poultry, they need to be thrown away as well.

What is safe to eat? High acid foods such as mustard, ketchup, relishes, pickles, non-creamy salad dressings, jams, and jellies. Unfortunately, these items will now spoil faster because they have been time and temperature abused. The following foods stored in the refrigerator should be OK uless they turn moldy or have an unusual odor:

  • Fresh whole fruits and vegetables
  • Unopened fruit and vegetable juices
  • Dried fruits and coconut
  • 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
  • Flour
  • Nuts

For frozen foods that are safe-to-eat look for any that may have thawed, but still contain ice crystals.

If the frozen foods have thawed, the foods can be safely refrozen; however; the quality may suffer. The following foods may be used unless they have turned moldy or have an unusual odor:

  • Dried fruits and coconut
  • Baked goods including fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins and cakes (except for those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings)
  • Hard and processed cheeses
  • Butter and margarine
  • Fruit juices
  • Nuts

Be sure to be ruthless when getting rid of potentially spoiled food because food poisoning can kill. WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!

Additional articles in this series:

How prepared are you for a weather emergency?

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