The Norman Transcript

March 20, 2013

Food safety is an important concern when dealing with a power outage

By Brenda Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — With spring’s arrival, Oklahomans are very aware that tornado season is here. Tornados or strong winds can hit any time of the day or night. Even if your neighborhood is not in the path of the storm, it is possible you will be without electricity for several hours or even a few days.

Without electricity or a cold source, foods stored in refrigerators or freezers can become unsafe. When perishable foods reach temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it provides the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. People who eat food after it is left in the danger zone two hours or longer can become extremely ill.

A good way to know the temperature of foods is to keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and the freezer. In the event of a power outage, consumers will know if the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer drops below a safe level after a few hours. A full freezer will usually keep food frozen for 48 hours. If it is only half full it will keep the food for 24 hours. Refrigerator freezing compartments generally do not keep food frozen for an extended period of time.

If your freezer is not full when the power fails, quickly group packages of food together so they can keep each other cold. When you do that, be sure to separate meat and poultry so they are below other foods. That way, if they begin to thaw, their juices won’t drip onto ready-to-eat foods.

It is best to keep your freezer full to maximize storage. If you have empty space in the freezer, fill clean juice or milk containers with water and store them in the freezer. These blocks of ice can buy a person several extra hours of cold storage in the event of a power outage. Freezer or gel packs also are good to keep on hand and used in coolers as well. In an effort to retain as much cold air in the refrigerator and freezer as possible, keep the doors closed. Foods can keep safely for about four hours if the refrigerator door is kept closed.

Discard refrigerated perishables such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheese, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power. Frozen items that still contain ice crystals or are at 40 degrees Fahrenheit can safely be refrozen.

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