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Food Safety Concerns During A Power Outage

Extreme weather is no stranger to Oklahoma, with tornadoes, scorching temperatures and frigid cold weather being common occurrences. 


Winter weather often brings with it power outages. While keeping warm is often the top priority for residents, food safety can also be a concern for those without electricity. 


“In the event of a power outage, the basic guide for food safety of frozen food is whether or not the food still contains ice crystals,” said Ravi Jadeja, food safety specialist for Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center. “A full freezer should keep for about 48 hours. A half-full freezer is good for about 24 hours. One way to extend this time is by filling the empty space in the freezer with newspaper or blankets.”


If you discover food has thawed and no longer has ice crystals, simply throw it away. If you notice blood from meat that has thawed during the power outage, advanced thawing has occurred, and those foods should also 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,” he said. 


Food in the refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. During a power outage, food will remain safe to eat for about four hours. Once perishable foods have been above 40 degrees for more than two hours, they are no longer safe to eat. This includes any meat, eggs (raw or hard-cooked), dairy products (particularly liquid and creamy dairy products), opened, creamy salad dressing and leftover stews, casseroles, soups and other leftover cooked foods.


Some foods can be kept at room temperature for a few days, including butter or margarine, fruit juices, jelly, relish, ketchup, barbecue sauce, pickles, baked goods, hard cheeses and processed cheeses. A good way to know the temperature of foods is to keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and the freezer. Consumers will know if the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer drops below a safe level after a few hours. 


“If your freezer is not full when the power fails, quickly group packages of food together, so they can help keep each other cold,” Jadeja said. “When you do that, be sure to separate meat and poultry so they are below other foods. That way, if they begin to thaw, their juices won’t drip onto ready-to-eat foods.”


Brown recommends keeping your freezer full to maximize storage. If you routinely have empty space in the freezer, fill clean juice bottles or milk containers with water and store them in the freezer. These blocks of ice can buy a person several extra hours of cold storage in the event of a power outage. 


“It’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to salvaging food items following a weather emergency,” Jadeja said. “In most cases, the power is usually restored within a few hours. However, if the outage lasts several days, be prepared to toss everything. The best rule of thumb is, ‘when in doubt, throw it out.”


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