What foods are safe to keep after a power outage?

Know what cold and frozen foods can be saved when the power goes out.

Electricity is like health: We take it for granted until we don’t have it. We have become dependent on electricity and wonder what we are going to do when the power does go out. Of course, the best thing to do is to be prepared, and that includes knowing what to do with the food in your refrigerator and freezer.

Our ancestors harvested ice in the winter to be used in ice boxes throughout the year. Some groups of people, such as the Amish, still harvest ice from streams and lakes for their ice boxes. However, most of us use modern refrigerators and freezers and when the electricity goes out for more than four to six hours we then are in need of ways to keep our food cold.

Keep appliance thermometers in every refrigerator and freezer that you own. Foods that have been in the refrigerator and are still at 40 degrees Fahrenheit are safe. Refrigerators generally hold their temperature, without electricity, for only four to six hours at the most. So, if your refrigerated food has been above 40 F for more than 2 hours, you have to know what foods you can save and what you must throw out. Following are foods that you can safely keep even if they have gotten above 40 F.

  • Milk products: You can keep butter, margarine, hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan. You can also keep processed cheeses and grated Parmesan cheeses such as Parmesan and Romano.
  • Fruits and Juices: Juices, and even opened canned fruit juices, do not have to be thrown away. This also includes canned fruits, opened cans and fresh fruit.
  • Vegetables: Fresh mushrooms, raw vegetables, herbs and spices can be saved and not thrown out.
  • Breads: Rolls, waffles, pancakes, bagels, muffins, quick breads and tortillas do not need to be discarded.
  • Condiments: Opened vinegar based salad dressings, jams, jellies, relishes, taco and barbeque sauces, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauces, soy sauces, pickles and olives do not need to be tossed.
  • Other foods that do not need to be refrigerated, but some people still keep in the refrigerato,r such as fruit pies, coconuts, raisins, dried fruits and peanut butter certainly do not need to be thrown away.

When it comes to your freezer the rule of thumb is that you can refreeze everything if it still contains ice crystals and it has not gotten above 40 F. You may have texture, flavor and quality loss on some items due to the partial thawing and refreezing. One exception is ice cream. Even if it is 40 F or colder and has some ice crystals, do not refreeze it, the quality will be too poor when refrozen.

Your Michigan State University Extension office is a place to contact with food safety questions. A final tip to remember is simply: When in doubt, throw it out. 

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