Where I live in Pennsylvania was not immune to the freak, pre-Halloween October snowstorm and its resulting power outages. In fact, some places are still without power in Pennsylvania, as they are in New York and New England.
Believe it or not, even a big city like Philadelphia lost power for a period of time during the storm. What made the news when the power came back on was a Philadelphia supermarket that was dumping shopping carts full of yogurt, cheese, meat, and other items from the refrigerated section of the store. People in the neighborhood were outraged. The store manager explained that because the store had been without power for eight hours, the store had no choice but to throw away the food that could have spoiled during the power outage. The store's policy was that if it loses power for four hours or less, it feels the food is still safe to sell to customers with minimal risk of customers getting sick. But a power outage of more than four hours? The food has got to go.
Turns out the store was right—well kind of.
According to the USDA, "The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed."
As you know in most stores there are doors in the freezer section but not the refrigerator section, where food is, in essence, out in the open. So perhaps the 4-hour benchmark is a bit too generous when you're dealing with a store. Nonetheless, the store was in the right for dumping the food.
What about the food in your own house, if you've lost power? You definitely want to keep the timed benchmarks mentioned above in mind, along with these 4 food safety tips in mind.
- Toss any meat or dairy that was kept above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours. If you don't have a thermometer to determine how warm your fridge got, be safe and discard any questionable food.
- Toss any vegetables that likely got to 40 degrees or higher for 6 hours or more. I do take a little bit of issue with this tip, since vegetables are not refrigerated in nature. My guess is you should let your nose be your guide and/or how the produce looks before determining whether to keep or toss.
- Check the "coldness" of foods that have come out of the freezer. The USDA says that meats that still have ice crystals on them and feel as cold as anything in a normal refrigerator are likely still cold enough to keep and refreeze.
- Expect some change in texture and taste with foods your refreeze. You can safely refreeze most items from the freezer, but expect that the taste and texture of the following with be different once you do thaw and eat them: seafood, cheese, fruit, and pie crusts.
The day after our power came back on, we decided that the night's dinner would be a smorgasbord of everything from the freezer that had defrosted due to the power outage. While we were able to make sausage and peppers successfully, our attempt at chicken quesadillas, and spaghetti and meatballs failed. Why? When I opened the packages of chicken and meatballs, they smelled so off that I knew the best place for them to go was the trash can.