Improperly stored or handled food during extended power outages can lead to food contamination and related foodborne illness, which can be serious and life-threatening.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health recommends following these safety tips to help you and your family prevent foodborne illness:
• Keep freezers closed to maintain the proper temperature for frozen foods. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours and for 24 hours if the freezer is half full.
• A refrigerator will only hold its temperature for about four hours. Food items like milk, dairy products, meats, eggs and leftovers should be placed in a cooler surrounded by ice if the outage lasts for more than four hours.
• Dry ice can be used to keep refrigerators cold. If the outage lasts for several days, 50 pounds of dry ice should preserve food in an 18-cubic foot full freezer for two days. Be careful when handling dry ice. Never touch dry ice with bare hands or breathe its vapors in an enclosed area. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, a gas.
• If left without power, purchase one or more coolers, ice and a digital, dial or instant-read food thermometer.
• If the freezer is not full, DPH strongly advises that poultry and meat items be grouped away from other foods to prevent juices from contaminating other items.
When the refrigerator and/or freezer are operating again, follow these guidelines to decided what to do with foods:
• Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as power is out for no more than four hours.
• Throw out any perishable food in your refrigerator, such as meat, poultry, lunch meats, fish, dairy products, eggs, and any prepared or cooked foods that have been above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours. Bacteria can multiply to unsafe levels under these conditions.
• Fresh fruits and vegetables are safe as long as they are still firm and there is no evidence of mold or sliminess.
• If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when power comes back on. If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
• If the food still contains ice crystals or is 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, it is safe to refreeze.
• Raw meats, poultry, cheese, juices, breads and pastries can be refrozen without losing too much food quality.
• Prepared food, fish, vegetables and fruits in the freezer can be refrozen safely, but food quality may suffer.