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Jul 28, 2008 08:52 AM

Help! power outage: is my food still safe?

We were out of power here yesterday for 12 hours. During that time I only opened the freezer for a few seconds and did not open the frig at all. The power came back on around 3 AM; I had some milk from the frig (which I purchased about an hour before the power went out) around 10 this morning and it tasted fine. However, a neighbor called and told me she is throwing everything away from her freezer and frig. We're been having ongoing problems every time it rains here lately with the power. Tuesday we were without power around 5-6 hours, this time it was 12 hours. Is my food safe to eat? I have a packed freezer and I really don't want to throw away all that expensive food. I have purposely not opened the freezer since yesterday to keep in all the cold.
What should I do?

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  1. The food police are going to come out in force......I can't find the link right now but I believe the Food and Drug Administration may have guidelines on how long food could be held safely.

    I've been in your situation before. You don't say what type of freezer you have (part of the fridge, stand alone chest, stand alone upright) but the food there should be ok. The freezer is pretty well insulated, especially if it is a stand alone unit, and the contents keep it pretty cold. You might have some slight freezer burn on the "surface" items and might want check out less substantial items that are on the outside edges.

    Your refrigerated items should be reviewed and possibly discarded. If you had a thermometer in your refridgerator, you could have judged when you were hitting the danger zone (over 40 degrees). Food can taste fine but still harbor some nasty things. I'd personally not take the chance and would pitch the highly perishable stuff.

    As an aside, you may want to invest in a small generator if you have problems with frequent power outtages. You don't need a big one; just one that can handle four to six appliances (less than $1,000; anything more may be overkill). You may have to fill up the gas tank every now and then but that's alot cheaper than throwing out your food.....for now, while gas is ~$4/gal. We had a generator because we lived on a well and septic and had sump pumps to keep the crawlspace dry. When the power went out, we lost everything. Of course, it was usually during rain storms and we didn't want water in the basement!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Dee S

      Thanks. I did go to the FDA site and it looks like my freezer, which was quite full, should be fine. I had some homemade chicken stock, oj, bacon, eggs, cheese, butter, mayo, produce and tons of mustards and condiments in the frig. I'll toss the bacon and eggs, oj and cheese. What about the condiments, butter and unopened cheese?
      What a pain in the neck. Thanks for the tip about the generator. Yet one more thing I can't afford to do right now, but I did think about it last night!

      1. re: mschow

        Condiments should be ok. The cheese is probably ok too. The eggs are probably fine as well. Bacon? Hmmm.....I can't bring myself to throw out bacon (was it opened? If no, keep).....the homemade chicken stock would be more of a concern to me.

        I'm with Sherri though. I've lived a long time without fussing too much about these things. I do err on the side of caution when giving others advice....we live in quite the litigous society and I'm sure someone will sue someone else for advice on a web site.

        1. re: mschow

          Eggs, butter and cheese (especially hard cheese) should be perfectly fine. None need to be refrigerated for safety reasons, although refrigeration prolongs their shelf life. Most condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo, and the like) don't need refrigeration for safety reasons either, although refrigeration is recommended to preserve quality. 12 hours without refrigeration shouldn't be a problem re. those item. The bacon is smoked -- I would eat it.

          The primary things I would worry about are cold cuts, already-cooked leftovers and soft/liquid dairy (cottage cheese, etc.), although with regard to the milk/cottage cheese, etc., I'd use the smell test, because you will be able to easily tell if they've gone off. Leftovers, I'd throw out, and any cold cuts.

          1. re: mschow

            The only thing that might possibly be an issue is the chicken stock. Simmer it for ten minutes and you're good to go. Agreed with DanaB that leftovers and cold cuts should go.

            1. re: alanbarnes

              Boiling the stock is even better.

            2. re: mschow

              For future reference, whenever this has happened to me, when the power comes back on I immediately check the freezer and give a good poke to the stuff in there. If it's still hard, it's good. If it's pretty squishy it goes. Problem is, if you wait awhile after the power comes back on, things will harden up again and you won't know how warm they got.

          2. In order for your frozen food to become unsafe, it would have to thaw and stay above 40 degrees for quite some time. Did that happen? If not, it remains safe. There might be a slight deterioration in quality if it got to the mushy, but it isn't dangerous. The fact that it "packed" works in your favor to hold the cold.

            The refrigerator may be a different story. Age, quality and "fullness" of the appliance is important. I own a 6 year old fridge that began losing cooling a couple of months ago due to some leak. Normally I keep it at 38 degrees and put a block of ice in it when I couldn't get a repairman for several days. There is a computer chip in the machine which told him that it never got above 45 degrees. We consumed the contents with no ill effects. Mind you, this 45 degree temp. was over a several day period, not the 12 hours you report. By not opening the fridge, you're likely still OK.

            I do not belong to the "if in doubt, throw it out" brigade since I find the philosophy very wasteful. I used to cook on a sailboat for weeks at a time using only a cooler for fridge. I doubt that it ever got to - and held - the recommended below 40 degrees, yet we all lived quite happily ever after. Nervous Nellies will have my gizzards for voicing these thoughts but might provoke some interesting posts ................ Stand by.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Sherri

              Anything mushy should go out; milk, I'd throw out; something like chicken or ground beef ought to go, too. If it's still frozen, that should not be a problem.

            2. As long as you kept the doors CLOSED and didn't open them during the time the power was off, your food should be just fine, especially since you said the freezer was packed - the more you had in there, the better it will have stayed cold.

              1. Some of you people have obviously never lived where power outages are common. I'm in the Dana B et al camp.

                Smell test on the milk...reheat the chicken stock and cook the bacon.

                The butter, cheese, eggs, and condiments will be just fine. There are many places in the world where these things are not refrigerated.

                And yeah, any leftovers I'd toss. Mayo I've heard is not the problem many think it is, but I don't use it so can offer no advice.

                Unless you have very young children, elderly or immune-compromised people in your household, then I guess I'd be a nervous nellie.

                1. Everything in the ref and freezer is fine.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I agree, my parents grew up without a fridge, things don't go off that quickly and you can smell them when they do. Eggs don't need refridgeration anyway. neither does cheese for a few days. Go to a French market and many items sit outside all day with no ill effects!!