Whether it's a hurricane, a summertime thunderstorm or a cold winter ice storm, sooner or later, the lights go out in Georgia. Whatever the cause, you can keep food from your refrigerator or freezer safe by following a few simple steps.
How do I keep my freezer cold? Keep the cold air inside by opening the door only when absolutely necessary. A full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures about two days; a half-full freezer about one day. If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an "igloo" to protect each other. Place meats to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won't get on other food. If you think the power may be out for several days, purchase some dry ice. You can put it in the refrigerator's freezer unit along with your refrigerated perishables such as meat and dairy items.
Even if food has started to thaw, can I safely refreeze it? The foods in your freezer that partially or completely thaw before power is restored may be safely refrozen if they still contain ice crystals or if their temperature is 40 degrees or below. There is a limit, however, to the number of days the food can stay at 40 degrees or below and still be used. A good rule is to keep the food at these refrigerator temperatures no longer than one or two days. Check each item separately. Be especially careful with meat and poultry products or food containing dairy products. When in doubt, throw it out.
Will there be much change in the flavor of foods I refreeze? Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some foods. Raw meats and poultry from the freezer can usually be refrozen without much quality loss. Prepared foods, vegetables, and fruits can be refrozen, but there may by some quality loss.
What about foods in my refrigerator? Generally, refrigerated items are safe as long as power is not out more than four hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable foods that have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm.
How high is the temperature? The key to knowing if foods in the refrigerator and freezer are still safe is knowing how cold they are. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees or below; the freezer 0 degrees or lower.
Are there other food safety facts to keep in mind in a power outage? Be sure to discard any fully cooked items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Also remember, you can't rely on appearance or odor to know if the food is safe.
Never taste food to determine its safety! Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature more than two hours, bacteria that causes foodborne illness can begin to grow very rapidly. Some bacteria will produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking.