The pull-date check. The sniff test. The "I'll just take a little taste" method. When it comes to deciding if frozen or refrigerated food is still safe to eat after a power outage, none of those old standbys is worth standing by!
Temperature and time are the only true tests, according to the U.S. Department of Food & Agriculture (USDA). And the window of safety? It may be shorter than you'd think!
For refrigerated foods, many become unsafe if they're warmer than 40 degrees for two hours or more. Notable exceptions are vinegar-based condiments, uncut fruits and vegetables, butter and hard cheeses. Some that should be discarded:
- Meat, leftovers and most dairy products
- Eggs (fresh or cooked)
- Shredded coconut
- Spaghetti sauce
- Cooked rice or pasta
- Packaged prewashed salads
- Garlic packed in oil.
Frozen foods can be trickier. That's because most partially thawed foods can be safely refrozen as long as they still contain ice crystals and feel cold, like they've been in the refrigerator (although quality may diminish during refreezing). Examples of foods safe to refreeze as long as they're still icy:
- Stews and soup
- Cakes or pies
- Frozen convenience food like pizza.
For frozen foods, you also can use the "quarter in a cup" test, although if there's any doubt, defer to the USDA guidelines.
Some foods, like bread, waffles and nuts are safe if they're thawed and above 40 degrees for longer than two hours. Check out the USDA's entire list.
Prepare for a power outage
You can help protect your food during a power outage by keeping the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed. Food in a closed refrigerator will stay safe up to four hours; in a full freezer, 48 hours; or in a half-full freezer, 24 hours.
If you have warning (like a predicted windstorm) that a power outage could be coming, reorganize the food in your freezer. Put like items together and pack them closely so they help keep each other cold. Also, place trays underneath so juices from thawed meat, for example, can't drip to the shelf below.
Also, stock up on ice. That's because you can safely extend the life of your refrigerated or thawed food if you pack it in a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. The food will stay good, the same as if it was in the refrigerator, as long as the temperature inside the cooler doesn't climb above 40 degrees.
Your PEMCO policy offers limited coverage, subject to your policy's deductible, for food lost because of a power outage. For details, see your PEMCO policy, talk with your local PEMCO agent or call 1-800-GO-PEMCO.
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