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What to Know About Food Safety After a Power Outage

What to Know About Food Safety After a Power Outage

In the summer months there’s an increased risk of power outages in some parts of the country where extreme heat, fires and hurricanes are possible. While food isn’t always at the top of our minds during an outage, it can have a seriously negative impact on everything in the refrigerator. Right now when groceries cost more than ever, a power outage could destroy hundreds of dollars worth of food, if not more.

So, how long will food last in a refrigerator without power?

According to the CDC, all it takes is four hours for food in the refrigerator to start going bad. You can’t control if there’s a power outage, but there are things you can do to preserve refrigerated and frozen food for as long as possible. It’s also important to know what food will spoil first so you can minimize safety hazards during an outage.

What to do to Keep Food Preserved When the Power Goes Out

Without warning the power goes out at your home. What’s the first thing you’re going to do? It turns out that doing nothing is one of the best things you can do to preserve food during a power outage.  

Don’t Open the Refrigerator or Freezer Doors

The number one rule is to try to not open the refrigerator or freezer door. That’s the only way to get the max amount of time before the food goes bad. The refrigerator can keep food at a safe temperature for four hours. You’ll get a lot more time out of the freezer if it remains shut. A half-full freezer will keep food cold for 24 hours. A full freezer preserves frozen perishables for up to 48 hours. 

Why does a freezer that is fully stocked keep food colder?

Very little cold air can escape when you open the door for a full freezer. Whereas, if the freezer is only half-full and you open the door you allow more cold air to escape and, naturally, warmer air flows in.

Fill the Freezer

Even if you don’t have food stockpiled you can fill your freezer to keep it cold for longer. If there’s empty space put jugs of cold water inside along with ice packs and bags of ice. Or better yet, put food from the refrigerator that will spoil first in the freezer. (See below for foods that will spoil within hours.)

Turn on the Backup Generator

The only true way to guarantee a power outage doesn’t spoil food is to have a backup generator. There are different types of generators from small portable generators that can keep a few major appliances going to whole house generators that provide power like normal. If power outages are likely to occur a generator is worth the investment. 

Ways to Tell If Food is Safe to Eat After a Power Outage

You don’t have a backup generator, but you did follow the other recommendations for preserving food when the power goes out. However, it’s been a while since the power went out and you’re not sure when it’s going to come back on. How are you going to tell if the food in your energy efficient refrigerator is safe to eat? 

Base Safety on the Number of Hours Without Power

Some foods just aren’t safe to eat if the power has been out more than four hours, even if the refrigerator doors have remained closed the whole time. Foods to toss after four hours without power include:

  • Meat
  • Soy meat substitutes
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Soft cheeses
  • Shredded cheese
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Milk
  • Cut fresh fruit
  • Refrigerated dough
  • Pies
  • Cream
  • Fresh pasta
  • Cooked pasta
  • Cooked rice
  • Cooked potatoes
  • Cooked tofu
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Opened baby formula
  • Opened mayonnaise
  • Opened creamy dressings
  • Opened spaghetti sauce
  • Opened juice
  • Any leftovers

Frozen food will remain good for much longer. And if frozen food does thaw it should still be safe to eat if ice crystals are present. 

Use Sight, Smell and Touch, Not Taste

Sampling food that may be spoiled isn’t a good idea. Sometimes all it takes is a bite or two for spoiled food to make you sick. However, you can use other senses to get a better idea of whether food has gone bad. Look at the food for signs of spoiling, smell the food to see if the odor is off and touch the food to make sure the texture is normal. If anything seems off it’s best to toss it than risk getting food poisoning. When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information on food safety in general check out FoodSafety.gov. Another great resource is the USDA’s Food Safety portal

Spark Energy is here to provide customers with support when the power goes out. Our fixed rate energy plans also provide peace of mind knowing that there won’t be any rate hikes no matter how high demand gets. Check to see if Spark Energy plans are available in your area.

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