Summer weather brings thunder storms and we have been experiencing our share. Although the rain is welcome, these storms often cause a power outage. Although most electricity is restored fairly quickly, you may find yourself without power for several hours. Consumers risk losing food stored in the refrigerator and freezer during long periods of power loss and it can have a significant drain on your wallet if you have to replace all that food. If you find yourself in a situation where the power is out, USDA has recommendations you can take to safe guard your refrigerated and frozen food.
If the power fails, do not open the refrigerator or freezer. I know it is hard to resist, but keep the door closed! Our first instinct is to check on the food, but opening the door will raise the internal temperature and speed up thawing. Food stays frozen longer if the freezer is full, well insulated and located in a cool area. A half-filled freezer will keep foods frozen only about 24 hours. Cover the freezer with blankets to help hold in the cold; but don’t cover the air vent.
USDA suggests if power is not to be resumed within one to two days or if the freezer is not back to normal operation in that time, use dry ice to keep the temperature below freezing and to prevent deterioration of spoilage of frozen foods. This is usually not an issue with thunderstorm outages, but maybe an issue if we experience a tropical storm. To locate dry ice, check with companies that transport food. When dry ice is obtained quickly after a power interruption, 50 pounds of dry ice should keep the temperature of food in a full 20 cubic for freezer below freezing for three to four days.
Refreezing Thawed Food
The first rule of thumb is, “When in doubt, throw it out.” It is not unusual for me to get calls each summer concerning a freezer crisis and half frozen food. Some partially thawed foods can be refrozen; however, the texture will not be as good. Extension Specialist in food safety recommends the following:
Meat – Refreeze meat and poultry only if the temperature is 40° F or below and if the color and odor are good. Check each package and discard if signs of spoilage such as an off color or order are present.
Vegetables – Refreeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below.
Fruit – Refreeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams and preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality.
Cooked foods and shell fish – Refreeze only if ice crystals are still present or the freezer is 40°F or below. If the condition is questionable, throw the food out.
Ice cream – If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture after thawing is not acceptable. If its temperature reaches above 40°F it could be unsafe.
During the summer months, it may be a good practice to lower the temperature of your freezer to make sure food is frozen and at a colder temperature. This will give you more time if the power does fail.
For more information on food safety and nutrition, contact the Madison County Extension office.
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