When Your Power Goes

Suppose a storm, an accident, or another event shuts off power to your home—along with your refrigerator and freezer. You may not need to toss out food if you take a few precautions.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed so heat stays out and cold stays in. Unopened, most refrigerators stay chilled for about four hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. If the power is out longer, you might get dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible.

Frozen foods can hold for about two days in a full, freestanding freezer if it stays closed. Half full, a freezer remains cold for about one day. Freezers are well insulated; each frozen food package is an ice block, protecting foods around it.

Once the Power's Back On

Avoid using appearance or odor as your guide to food safety. Instead, follow these guidelines:

• If foods in the freezer still have ice crystals, or are at 40° F or less, refreeze them right away. Then use them as soon as you can.

The Cold Truth: How Cold, How Long?

How long can refrigerated and frozen food keep safely and remain at top quality? Freezer and refrigerator times vary. As long as the food is properly packaged, these are basic guidelines:

Food

Refrigerator (40° f)

Freezer (0° f)

Eggs

Fresh eggs, in shell

4 to 5 weeks

Don't freeze

Hard-cooked eggs

1 week

Doesn't freeze well

Liquid pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes,

Opened

3 days

Don't freeze

Unopened

10 days

1 year

Dairy products

Milk

1 week

3 months

Cottage cheese

1 week

Doesn't freeze well

Yogurt

1 to 2 weeks

1 to 2 months

Commercial mayonnaise

(refrigerate after opening)

2 months

Don't freeze

Vegetables

Raw

Blanched/cooked

Beans, green or waxed

3 to 4 days

8 months

Carrots

2 weeks

10 to 12 months

Celery

1 to 2 weeks

10 to 12 months

Lettuce, iceberg

1 to 2 weeks

Don't freeze

Lettuce, leaf

3 to 7 days

Don't freeze

Spinach

1 to 2 days

10 to 12 months

Squash, summer

4 to 5 days

10 to 12 months

Squash, winter

2 weeks

10 to 12 months

Tomatoes

2 to 3 days

2 months

Deli and Self-Serve Foods

Store-prepared or homemade salads: egg,

ham, chicken, tuna, macaroni salads

3 to 5 days

Don't freeze

Entrées, cold or hot

3 to 4 days

2 to 3 months

Frozen Dinners and Casseroles

Keep frozen until ready to serve

3 to 4 months

Hot Dogs*

Opened package

1 week

Don't freeze

Unopened package

2 weeks

In freezer wrap, 1 to 2 months

Lunch Meats

Opened

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Unopened

2 weeks

1 to 2 months

Fresh Meat

Beef-steaks, roasts

3 to 5 days

6 to 12 months

Pork-chops, roasts

3 to 5 days

4 to 6 months

Lamb-chops, roasts

3 to 5 days

6 to 9 months

Veal-roast

3 to 5 days

4 to 6 months

The Cold Truth: How Cold, How Long? (continued)

Food

Fresh Poultry Chicken or turkey, whole Pieces Giblets

Fresh Fish Lean fish (cod, flounder, etc.) Fatty fish (salmon, etc.)

Ham and Corned Beef Canned ham (label says keep refrigerated) Ham, fully cooked, and corned beef (half and slices) Corned beef, in pouch with pickling juices

Hamburger, Ground and Stew Meats Hamburger and stew meats Ground turkey, veal, pork, lamb, and mixtures

Bacon and Sausage Bacon

Sausage, raw (pork, beef, turkey) Precooked, smoked breakfast links, patties Hard sausage (pepperoni, jerky sticks)

Leftovers

Cooked meat, meat dishes, egg dishes, soups,

Refrigerator (40° f)

6 to 9 months 3 to 5 days 5 to 7 days

1 week 1 to 2 days

1 weeks

2 to 3 weeks

1 year 9 months 3 to 4 months

6 months 2 to 3 months

Don't freeze 1 to 2 months Drained, wrapped, 1 month

3 to 4 months 3 to 4 months

1 month 1 to 2 months 1 to 2 months 1 to 2 months

Leftovers

Cooked meat, meat dishes, egg dishes, soups,

stew, vegetables

3 to 4 days

2 to 3 months

Gravy and meat broth

1 to 2 days

2 to 3 months

Cooked poultry and fish

3 to 4 days

4 to 6 months

Fresh Produce

  • The quality of certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) can be maintained best by storing in the refrigerator. If you are uncertain whether an item should be refrigerated to maintain quality, ask your grocer.
  • All produce purchased precut or peeled should be refrigerated for safety as well as quality.
  • Produce cut or peeled at home should be refrigerated within two hours.
  • Any cut or peeled produce that is left at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded.
  • Some may have package dates that may not be consistent with these guidelines.

Adapted from: To Your Health: Food Safety for Seniors (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2004).

  • Discard perishable foods if the power has been out for more than four hours: meat, poultry, fish, milk, soft cheese, eggs, leftovers, and deli items. In that time, bacteria can multiply enough to cause illness. Dispose of them safely—where animals can't eat them. For more about what foods to keep and discard after an emergency, check USDA's: www.fsis.usda.gov.
  • If the power's been out for only a few hours, keep less perishable foods. Fresh whole fruits and vegetables, hard and process cheeses, condiments, butter, and margarine often keep for several days at room temperature. Toss food out, however, if it turns moldy or smells bad.

Plan for Unexpected Emergencies

Wherever you live, keep a three-day supply of food and water for you, your family—and your pets.

  • Stock up on nonperishable foods: ready-to-eat canned meat, fruits, juices, milk, soups, and vegetables. Canned foods are better than foods in glass bottles or jars because they won't break in a disaster. Choose single-serving portions, too; you may have no way to keep leftovers cold. Keep high-energy foods on hand, such as peanut butter, nuts, and trail mix.
  • Rotate your emergency food and water supply every year or so. In that way it's fresh when you need it.
  • Buy commercially bottled, well-sealed water, or store your own water in sanitized, food-grade containers (not milk cartons or jugs). Plan for 1 gallon of water per person per day. See "Safe Enough to Drink" in chapter 8 for making contaminated water safe to drink
  • Keep manual can openers on your emergency shelf. A well-stocked emergency shelf with no way to open food cans doubles any disaster!

For more advice about handling and perhaps discarding food and kitchen equipment after disasters (fires, floods, hurricanes) and power outages, contact experts: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Hotline (1-888-SAFE-FOOD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-800-535-4555), your local American Red Cross, Cooperative Extension Service, Civil Defense, or emergency management office.

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