It may be winter, but there is much more than snow moving across the United States. Weather systems across the country are ushering in heavy rain, strong winds and even tornadoes, bringing along the threat of power outages. If power gets knocked out for a few hours or a few days, there are precautions you can take to help your food weather the storm.
Food in the refrigerator should be kept at 40°F or colder. During a power outage, foods are safe to eat for about four hours. Once refrigerated food has been sitting at temperatures above 40°F for more than two hours, it's unsafe to eat. However, there are some foods that can be kept at room temperature for a few days including butter/margarine, condiments, baked goods and hard or processed cheeses.
In a full freezer, set at or below 0°F, food is safe for about 48 hours. That time gets cut in half to 24 hours if the freezer is only half-full. Barbara Brown, a food specialist at Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension, says it's all about the ice crystals. If the food no longer has ice crystals, it has thawed and should be thrown out.
"For food still containing ice crystals, it would be a good idea to mark each package with an X or label as refrozen to indicate these items should be eaten first and as soon as possible," says Brown.
Now that you know what temperature your refrigerator and freezer should be kept at, a good way to help you determine if the food is safe is by keeping appliance thermometers in both. It may be considered common sense, but keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the temperature.
Here are five tips that can help you prepare in anticipation of a power outage:
- Freeze containers of water to help keep food cold
- Leave as little empty space as possible in the freezer
- Freeze refrigerated items you will not use immediately
- Group food together to help the food stay cold longer
- Keep meat and poultry grouped below other foods in case of thawing
Typically, power outages are restored within a couple hours, but if an outage last for several days just toss everything. When it doubt, throw it out!
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