How long is food safe in a summer power outage?

Don't Waste Your Money

It happens every summer during some of the hottest days of the year: Power outages caused by overwhelmed power grids, lightning storms or wind storms.

And when your power goes out for more than an hour or two, nervous homeowners start to worry if their food will still be safe when the power comes back on.

That's exactly the predicament much of Cincinnati's East Side experienced Monday , where a possibly heat-related outage knocked power out in Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakley, Fairfax and other neighborhoods.

Don't Open the Fridge

The first rule of dealing with a summertime power outage is to not open the fridge.  If you have children, it's important to remind them of that, as kids tend to stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open.

Just opening it for 30 seconds can cause the temperature inside to rise 3 or 4 degrees, and if the power is out, you can't recover that cold.

In the winter, you can simply place perishables outdoors or in the garage, but that's not an option now.

So assuming your refrigerator is closed tightly, the US government's Food Safety program says all your perishables should be fine for four hours.

At the five hour mark, however, some foods will start to deteriorate.

What to Throw Out After the Outage

First of all, don't open the refrigerator to start purging during the power failure. You want whatever cold is inside there to remain there.

But the government says the following foods should be discarded after five hours in a fridge with no power:

  • Milk
  • Raw meat, fish, or chicken
  • Tuna salad, macaroni salad, egg salad
  • Sliced lunchmeats
  • Casseroles
  • Soft cheeses, sour cream, mayonnaise

What You Can Save

Some refrigerated items can be saved and re-cooled according to the government. They include:

  • Butter (in the old days, it was never refrigerated)
  • Unopened juice
  • Most fruit
  • Hard cheese such as Parmesan, Swiss, Romano (in some countries, it is never refrigerated)
  • Jelly, ketchup, mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce

Freeze Should Be OK

A mostly-full freezer should be OK for at least 12 hours, unless you notice thawing.

Which brings us to: If you still have ice, toss that into a cooler and place any steaks or chicken in it: as long as they are chilled to 34 degrees they are safe.

Unsure? Throw it out. It is better to be safe than sick.

As always, don't waste your money.


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