Losing power is never fun, but you don't want to make it worse by eating food from the refrigerator that's gone bad. If your power is out for longer than four hours, you may be tossing most of the food from your refrigerator into the trash. As the saying goes: When in doubt, throw it out.
Ideally, your perishable items, which includes meat, seafood, poultry and dairy foods, should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in the refrigerator, and 0 degrees F or below in the freezer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To help keep your refrigerator at the ideal temperature for the longest period of time during a power outage, keep the doors closed. If left unopened, the refrigerator can hold its temperature for up to four hours and the freezer for up to 48 hours.
Invest in a refrigerator thermometer to help you monitor temperature during an outage.
If you've lost power for less than four hours and haven't opened the refrigerator doors during that time, your food should be safe to eat if the temperature remained within the recommended range. However, if you've lost power for more than four hours and the temperature in your refrigerator was above 40 degrees F for more than two hours you need to discard all perishable items, including:
- Meat, poultry, seafood and eggs
- Milk, yogurt, soft cheeses such as bleu or mozzarella, shredded cheese and low-fat cheese
- Prepared foods such as pizza, soups and casseroles
- Opened canned food
- Baby formula and food
- Cooked pasta and rice
- Opened sauces
- Pre-cut salad greens and cooked vegetables
- Pudding, pies and refrigerated cookie and biscuit dough
- Mayo-based salad dressing
A full freezer helps keep food colder longer. If your freezer isn't full, pack the foods tightly together to help hold temperature.
While your refrigerator may be pretty empty after an outage, you don't have to throw everything away. Foods safe to keep include:
- Peanut butter
- Jelly and jam
- Fruit juice and canned fruit, even if opened
- Butter and margarine
- Hard cheeses such as cheddar and grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh and dried fruit
- Raw vegetables
- Fresh herbs
- Soy and Worcestershire sauce
- Vinegar-based salad dressing, even if opened
- Bread, muffins, waffles and pancakes
While not all power outages are predictable, if there's a pending storm, planning ahead may help prevent you from having to discard all your refrigerator goodies. The USDA suggests putting some of your perishable items in a cooler with ice or freezer packs to help keep them colder longer than the four-hour window.