A massive blackout is not a far-fetched scenario and these events occur almost every year. When your home is left without power you need to know how to handle all your refrigerated food. There are some strict rules that everyone should follow.
Once the power goes out, guessing when it will be back on is an impossible task. Most people will look at their fridge and they will try to guess for how long the food will stay fresh. Some will try to cook and save their refrigerated food that could be worth hundreds of dollars. There will be those who will discard everything just to be on the safe side. Before you throw everything away, follow along and discover when you can eat your food and when it’s time to say goodbye to it.
Having the right knowledge about how to handle refrigerated food can help you avoid losing valuable food due to spoilage. Even more, it can help you stay healthy and avoid food borne illnesses.
Most people will decide if their food is still safe to use by using two ancient methods that were promoted by our parents and grandparents: the smell and the taste test. While this may seem like a good idea at first, you should know that it’s just a gamble in the end. Today, in the United States, salmonella is the most common source of food poisoning. These bacteria can thrive easily in milk and other dairy products, along with poultry and eggs at temperatures between 40 and 135 degrees.
If you know that your area is prone to power failures you should always have a backup system that can keep your appliances working. If running a generator is not possible, you can also make a plan B, something that will cost you nothing. Every household has a camping cooler or two and some people even buy Styrofoam chests coolers that they keep nearby for emergencies. Investing in some ice packs is recommended.
Even keeping plastic bottles in the freezer until they are frozen solid will help you improvise a mini-cooler for when the power goes out. Before placing your meat, fish, poultry and leftovers in your improvised cooler, make sure you use a vacuum sealer to seal them tight. This will help you store the food for a longer time. No air should get in contact with your leftovers.
The federal food safety organization (foodsafety.gov) recommends that you should keep in mind two magic numbers when it comes to food safety. All refrigerated food that has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours should be discarded. Having a food thermometer at hand is recommended as it will help you test the temperature of your food. Make sure you always start with the liquids as it will provide you with the most accurate temperature readings. If you have milk in the fridge, consider testing it first before you move to other leftovers.
Refrigerated food will stay fresh for longer if good insulation is provided
Modern refrigerators provide good insulation, but people don’t know how to take advantage of it. Rather than keeping the doors shut and preserve the precious cold, they check the foods way too often. When doing so, the temperature inside the fridge drops considerably. A fully stock modern fridge can keep the food inside for 48 hours. However, if you keep opening and closing the doors, you will shorten this time significantly.
If the blackout occurs during the winter, the Red Cross advises to use snow to pack the cooler or even move the fridge/cooler outside if possible. When the power goes down during the hot season, you can move the fridge far from the window or anything else that emits heat. If you have a cooler as a plan B, make sure you move it to the basements. You can store it in any other place that keeps the temperature low.
Suggested reading: How to live without refrigeration
Is my refrigerated food still safe or not?
If the power goes down and the food temperatures reach above 40 degrees for more than two hours, the food safety organization recommends the following actions based on the type of refrigerated food you have:
- Cheese – It is ok to keep hard cheese such as cheddar, Parmesan or Swiss. You should toss soft cheese like cottage, brie, Gorgonzola, mozzarella or any shredded cheese.
- Meat, poultry or seafood – if you haven’t started grilling it when the power went off, you should toss it all.
- Dairy – Butter and margarine can be kept, but you should discard other dairy products like eggs. Even baby formula should be tossed.
- Fruits and vegetables – raw and uncut produce can be kept; the same goes for herbs and spices. Cooked or cut, washed and packaged produce like lettuce should be discarded.
- Breads, pasta, grains and pastries – You can keep bread, cakes, muffins, cookies, tortillas, waffles, bagels and pancakes. If you have refrigerated dough, cooked pasta, pasta salad and rise, you should toss it all.
- Sauces, jams and condiments – Keep peanut butter, mustard, ketchup, jelly, balsamic vinaigrette or BBQ sauce. You should toss blue cheese ranch, fish or oyster sauces, mayonnaise, tomato sauce and tartar sauce.
Besides the refrigerated foods listed above, you should also toss all cooked leftovers. Things such as salads (tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, etc.), open cans of meat, casseroles, soups and stews.
Avoid the habits that make refrigerated food spoil faster
There is a general food handling etiquette that people should follow if they want their food to last longer:
- Drinking from the carton – This is a bad habit that will shorten the life of liquids. You should grab a glass before putting your lips on the carton. If you keep doing this, milk will sour faster and juice will ferment.
- Double-dipping – The human saliva contains enzymes and bacteria that have the role of starting the digestive process. Double-dipping will transfer these enzymes and bacteria to the communal bowl and it will spoil the food twice as fast.
- Finger-licking – Although this is a childish behavior, many adults still do this and their food suffers the consequences. Don’t dip your finger into the leftovers from your fridge unless you want to start a microbial process that spoils your food.
- Air exposure – If you want to preserve leftovers you should make sure they don’t come in contact with airborne microorganisms. Use a vacuum sealer to help preserve your leftovers.
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- Letting the foo dry out in the fridge – This is common mistake for most people and only few of them know that it is one of the most common source of spoilage. Use food-grade containers or wrap your food carefully to prevent this.
- Leaving the food on the counter – We take refrigerated foods out of the fridge and we let them warm up on the counter without even noticing. We lose track of time and we go on with our day, but by the time we put the food back in the fridge, molds, yeast and various type of enzymes start their destructive process. Pay attention and put the items back in the fridge if you don’t want to throw them away.
Don’t count on your refrigerated items as your main source of food
Although this may sound like common sense for those who are preparedness minded, there are many families who stuff their fridge and freezer with enough food to last them for weeks and they think everything is covered. When a blackout strikes their area they will have two problems to deal with: handling a large quantity of food that spoils faster than they can eat and not having a backup food supply. In these uncertain financial times, it would be foolish not to have a well-stocked pantry.
Having a pantry as a plan B doesn’t make you a prepper. It’s just a precautionary measure to survive when times get tough, may it be unemployment or any other event that would affect the supply chain. Stock your pantry with canned goods, dried or freeze-dried foods, comfort foods and anything that you and your family like eating. You should prepare now to eat for later.
Recommended article: Best Foods to hoard when the Power is out
If the power is out long enough for food to reach the critical temperature for more than two hours and if you don’t have any backup plan, you now know what specific items you need to throw away. Do not try to save money by testing the foods and gambling with your health as it can lead to serious medical conditions or even worse.
Stay safe and God Bless!
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