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Know which foods to pitch after a power outage

Severe spring weather can bring power outages. If the electricity is out for more than two hours, it is important to know how to make sure the foods in your refrigerator and freezer are safe.

“Once the electricity goes off, the average full freezer will hold temperatures for 48 hours,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

A half-full freezer will hold a freezing temperature for 24 hours. “You can extend this time by filling the freezer with newspaper or blankets as soon as the electricity goes off,” Roberts said. Only open the freezer door when absolutely necessary.

Once the electricity comes back on, check the food. Foods that still have ice crystals are OK to refreeze. “It is also OK to refreeze if the thermometer in the freezer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less,” she said. Discard food from the freezer if it has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours.

Unfortunately, the refrigerator can only maintain a safe temperature for around four hours. Most refrigerated food that has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours should be discarded. This includes raw or cooked meat, poultry and fish; milk, yogurt, soft cheese and cream-based foods; cracked or hard-cooked eggs; and casseroles, stews and soups.

Refrigerated foods that last longer at temperatures above 40 degrees include hard cheeses, processed cheeses, peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles, barbecue sauce, fruits and fresh vegetables.

Condiments such as opened jars of mayonnaise, tartar sauce or horseradish should be pitched if they were above 50 degrees for more than eight hours.

You should toss any foods with an unusual smell, of course, but a lack of odor is no guarantee that food is safe. “If you are not sure how long a food was above 40 degrees, be safe and throw it out,” Roberts said. “Anyone who has ever suffered from a foodborne illness will tell you that it is not worth it to save the food.”

For more resources from MU Extension on staying safe during and after severe weather and other emergencies, see  

For more information please call the Madison County Extension Center at 783-3303.  The University of Missouri Extension is an equal opportunity/ADA institution.

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