Savannah Valley District

Homemaker’s Column: Food Safety During A Power Outage

Christine J. Patrick, County Extension Agent – EFNEP

  • Storms and heavy winds can arise and create perfect conditions for power outages. Losing power is a hassle, and one of the things we need to consider immediately is the safety of stored food.  One of the fundamentals of food safety is temperature. For many perishable foods, freezing and refrigeration prolong the length of time to retain acceptable quality and safety. We rely on our refrigerators and freezers for safe storage, and when power is lost, let’s us know how much we depend on them. When power outages occur, it is best to have a food safety plan in place. Being proactive can help you reduce waste and confidence when deciding whether foods are safe to eat. An appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer is a great way to ensure that foods remain at safe temperatures. Refrigerate and freeze to verify that food is kept at safe temperatures (34°F to 40°F for the refrigerator; 0°F or below for the freezer). Fill freezer bags with ice packs or purchase freezer-pack inserts. Have coolers available and easily accessible; Styrofoam ones work great. Have a calibrated food thermometer for checking the temperature of your potentially hazardous food. Before an emergency occurs, find out where to buy ice blocks or dry ice and turn refrigerators and freezers to the coldest settings.
  • When the power goes out, unplug the freezer, refrigerator, and other appliances to protect them from power surges when the power returns. Make sure everyone in your household knows not to open the refrigerator or freezer doors. Keeping the doors closed will keep the food cold for a longer time. Wrap the refrigerator or freezer in blankets to create extra insulation. Make sure blankets don’t touch the compressor. If power possibly will be off for more than 2 to 4 hours, re-pack refrigerated items into coolers with plenty of ice. Depending on the size of the freezer, how full it is, and how well insulated it is, items in it potentially can stay frozen for 2 to 4 days. A full freezer (operating at 0 °F) will keep foods frozen for about 48 hours if the doors are closed. A half-full freezer can only be expected to keep food frozen for a maximum of 24 hours; for extended power outages, use blocks of dry ice in the freezer. A fifty-pound block of dry ice will keep the contents of a full 18 cubic foot freezer frozen for two days. Remember to wear gloves or use tongs when handling dry ice. Wrap the ice in brown paper for more extended storage, and separate it with a piece of cardboard from direct food contact. If the freezer is partially empty, fill it with crumpled newspaper to cut down on air currents, which cause the dry ice to dissipate.
  • When power returns, check the internal temperature of all perishable foods with a calibrated food thermometer. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40 °F for 2 hours or more and any food with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power is out, no more than four to six hours. If the power is off for more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to ensure the food stays at 40°F or below. Some foods may look and smell fine. However, if they have been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria that cause foodborne illness can begin to multiply very rapidly. Some bacteria produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking and can cause infection. For more detailed information on food safety during a power outage, visit Clemson HGIC website and search for  HGIC 3760, Food Safety in Power Outages and HGIC 3780, Food Safety in Freezer Failure, HGIC 3800 Food Safety in Hurricanes & Floods, HGIC 3820 Food Safety After a Tornado, and HGIC 3840 Food Safety after a Fire

 The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer

Leave a Reply