When Good Food Goes Bad

When the power goes out with a refrigerator full of food, it’s a race against time to determine what can be saved and what has to be thrown out. The key is keeping the doors closed to keep the cool air inside.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says refrigerated food remains safe to eat up to four hours without electricity, while a full freezer remains safe for up to 48 hours. (A freezer that is only half full will likely be safe for only 24 hours.)

If you have access to dry ice, 50 pounds will maintain a freezer for two days.

If your power has been out for more than four hours and your refrigerator temperature climbs above 40 degrees and your freezer temperature above freezing (32 degrees), discard:

  • Raw, cooked or leftover meat, poultry and seafood, including lunchmeat and hot dogs
  • All dairy products
  • Eggs and egg substitutes
  • Fresh or cooked fruits and vegetables, including opened juices

Mayonnaise, tartar and horseradish sauce are safe a little longer, but should be discarded after eight hours above 40 degrees.

Lacey Moy, MD, a physician at Memorial Care on North Dirksen, says foodborne illnesses can be a serious problem during power outages. They can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

“This can also lead to dehydration, which can present as dizziness, headache and decreased urination,” she said. “If you have eaten any questionable food and develop significant symptoms, you should be evaluated by a provider.”

The USDA says never taste food to determine its safety and when in doubt, throw it out.

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