Refrigerator Shelf Life: When the Power Goes Out.

Discussion in 'Back to Basics' started by Ganado, Sep 29, 2015.

  1. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    When the Power Goes Off
    A power outage may occur during an ice/snow storm, hurricane, tornado or flood or may simply be caused by work being done on electric lines. Whatever the cause, the following recommendations apply to food safety in power outages.

    Safety Recommendations

    Use a Thermometer: Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to see if food is being stored at safe temperatures (34 to 40°F for the refrigerator; 0°F or below for the freezer). Temperature is critical to the safety of foods in the refrigerator and freezer. Most foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40°F.

    Leave the Freezer Door Closed: A full freezer should keep food safe about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day. If freezer is not full, group packages together quickly. Group meat and poultry to one side or place on separate trays to keep their juices from contaminating other foods if they thaw. Then avoid opening the freezer door to prevent the cold air from escaping.

    Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. Use three pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space. The temperature of dry ice is -216°F, so use rubber gloves or tongs when handling it. Wrap dry ice in brown paper for longer storage, and separate it from direct food contact with a piece of cardboard. Fill a partially empty freezer with crumpled newspaper to cut down on air currents which cause dry ice to dissipate. Provide adequate ventilation for carbon dioxide in areas where dry ice is used. Do not cover air vent openings of freezer.

    Refrigerated Items: These foods should be safe as long as the power is out no more than four to six hours. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40°F for two hours or more and any food with an unusual odor, color or texture. Leave the door closed; every time it is opened, cold air escapes and causes the foods inside to warm to unsafe temperatures. If it appears the power will be off 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 be sure the food stays at 40°F or below.

    Never Taste Food to Determine Its Safety: 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 which are not destroyed by cooking and can cause illness.

    Power Out Chart

    Use the following chart to decide which foods are safe to eat when the power is restored.

    Discard: The following foods should be discarded if kept over two hours at above 40°F.

    • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes - raw or cooked.
    • Milk, cream, pasteurized yogurt and soft cheese
    • Casseroles, stews or soups
    • Lunch meats and hot dogs
    • Creamy-based salad dressings
    • Custard, chiffon or cheese pies
    • Cream-filled pastries
    • Refrigerator and cookie dough
    • Discard open mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish if above 50°F for over eight hours.
    Save: The following foods should keep at room temperature a few days. Still, discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.

    • Butter or margarine
    • Hard and processed cheeses
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Dried fruits and coconut
    • Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives and peanut butter
    • Fruit juices
    • Fresh herbs and spices
    • Fruit pies, breads, rolls and muffins
    • Cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled
    • Flour and nuts
    Refreeze: Thawed foods that still contain ice crystals may be refrozen. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals, but have been kept at 40 °F or below for two days or less, may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.

    Removing Odors

    If food has spoiled in a refrigerator or freezer because of a power failure, undesirable odors can develop. To eliminate odors, remove the food and wash the inside of the freezer with one tablespoon of baking soda in a quart of tap water, or with one cup of vinegar in a gallon of tap water. Let the surface dry.

    If the odor still persists, use activated charcoal. This type of charcoal is extra dry and absorbs odors more quickly than cooking-type charcoal. It can be purchased at a drug store or pet supply store. To use it, unplug the freezer. Put the charcoal in pans or on paper in the bottom of the freezer for several days. If the odor remains, put in new charcoal. When the odor is gone, rinse and dry the inside of the freezer. Turn on the freezer and it is ready for food. When odor gets into the freezer's insulation, write the manufacturer for its suggestions for solving the problem. However, sometimes nothing can be done.

    Source: This information came from HGIC 3760. Food Safety in Power Outages

    For more information about food safety in an emergency, see the following fact sheets at Overview : Extension : Clemson University : South Carolina:

    • HGIC 3760 Food Safety in Power Outages
    • HGIC 3780 Food Safety in Freezer Failure
    • HGIC 3800 Food Safety in Hurricanes & Floods
    • HGIC 3820 Food Safety after a Tornado
    • HGIC 3840 Food Safety after a Fire
    Marck, Hanzo, ditch witch and 6 others like this.
  2. oldawg

    oldawg Monkey+++

    A low tech tip for a freezer. Get one of the cheap hourglsses, empty the sand out and add some water. Freeze it and then flip it over and leave it. If even one drop of water or ice is now in the lower part you know if the power was out long enough for a thaw. Handy when you're going away for a day or few.
    Marck, Hanzo, ditch witch and 10 others like this.
  3. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    Marck, sec_monkey and oldawg like this.
  4. oldawg

    oldawg Monkey+++

    I was trying to remember where we got ours. They were egg timers.
    Marck, sec_monkey and Ganado like this.
  5. Altoidfishfins

    Altoidfishfins Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    Good points and tips here. As a kid I remember a large snowstorm taking power down for a week and drifts blocked off the road where we lived. No power, no traffic in or out. Fortunately heat was propane and one of the heaters (there were 2 in the house) worked by convection, requiring no electrical power.

    My parents and older sister simply emptied the refrigerator and packed the food in boxes to be buried outside in the snow. The year was 1958.

    This is probably routine for people such as BT Post.
    kellory likes this.
  6. oldawg

    oldawg Monkey+++

    The ones we used were glass in wood frames. We drilled a hole in one end to get the sand out and then plugged the hole after adding some water. Don't need much which might explain why we never broke one. The new ones appear to be plastic so they may be easier to work with. IDK. But I'm pretty sure the newer digital ones won't do tho. ;)
    Cruisin Sloth and kellory like this.
  7. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Wait....DON'T drill the digital ones to let the sand out?:eek:could you have been just a little faster with that tip?:oops: figured I wasn't shaking hard enough.....oh man....
    vonslob and oldawg like this.
  8. oldawg

    oldawg Monkey+++

  9. kckndrgn

    kckndrgn Monkey+++ Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    I went low tech, used an old 16oz soda bottle and filled it about 1/2 with water. froze it so the opening was down (kept the bottle inverted while freezing). Then I store it upright. yes, it's bigger than a sand timer, but no drilling required.

    if you are going to have no power for an extended amount of time, you can put your frozen items in the refrigerator side immediately. they will help keep the refrigerator side a bit cooler since they are starting out frozen, and as they thaw you can cook and eat them.
    Hanzo, Ganado, oldawg and 1 other person like this.
  10. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    i was looking at the timer in the 'Boggle' game I have in the closet and its self contained so I guess it would need a hole drilled in it to get the sand out.
  11. vonslob

    vonslob Monkey++

    We keep the freezer full using water bottles. As the frig empties, add water bottles, then after a shopping trip, take out the bottle and they either go into my lunch cooler or they go into the frig. There is a small chest freezer we keep in the garage that is has one gallon water bottles lining the bottom.
    Ganado likes this.
  12. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    I figured it was easier to unplug the fridge and freezer from the grid and plug it into the solar powered outlet.
    I get to keep my egg timer intact ;)
  13. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Easier, but not cheaper.
  14. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    But no wasted food, either. Plus it powers other essentials...:cheap" doesn't always equate with "good." [beer]
    Yard Dart, Ganado and kellory like this.
  15. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    True, if I had the choice, I would be on a grid-tied solar system.
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