When freezers or refrigerators are off for several hours – no matter the reason – the food safety rules about what to keep or toss are the same according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
“The bottom line is that if power has been off for several days, all of the food in the refrigerator should be thrown away. If people have kept their food outside at a temperature of 40 degrees or below, that food may be safe,” said Duitsman.
Refrigerators and freezers need to be washed thoroughly before putting food back in them. Duitsman says to first wash with plain water, then warm water and dish soap.
“It is a good idea to sanitize with a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart of water. Do not use more bleach because it can be dangerous or toxic. Be sure to leave the refrigerator or freezer door open until it dries,” said Duitsman.
The basic guide is if the food still has ice crystals inside it, it can be refrozen. Duitsman suggests taking a permanent marker or crayon and mark each package in the freezer with an “X” indicating it was partially thawed.
Any items, which do not have ice crystals, should be tossed.
What if you don’t know how thawed the food items were before the freezer came back on?
“If you notice blood on neighboring packages or in the bottom of the freezer, this indicts advanced thawing. At this point, since we are dealing with an unknown, the rule is if in doubt, throw it out,” said Duitsman.
What about the refrigerator? Since food in a refrigerator should be kept at about 40 degrees or below during normal operation, two hours without power will mean tossing some food out.
“Tossing is the hardest thing to do. But when we are in doubt, we need to throw out,” said Duitsman.
Eat or toss
According to Duitsman, all the following foods need to be tossed if kept more than two hours above 40 degrees: raw or cooked meat, poultry, fish; hard cooked or cracked eggs; egg substitutes; milk, cream yogurt or soft cheese; casseroles, stews or soups; lunch meats and hot dogs; creamy-based salad dressings; custard, chiffon or cheese pies; cream-filled pastries and cookie dough.
The condiments in the refrigerator door — like opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish — need to be tossed if they were held above 50 degrees for more than eight hours.
The following refrigerated foods should keep at room temperature a few days: butter, margarine, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruits and coconut, opened jars of salad dressing (except mayonnaise types), peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup and olives, hard and processed cheeses, fruit juices, fresh herbs and spices, flour and nuts, fruit pies, bread, rolls, cakes and muffins.
Toss any of these items if they turn moldy or have an unusual odor.
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