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By: Cheryl Molinatto   Date: 9/8/11

I recently returned from a vacation to the blinking lights of every clock in the house.  After a long sigh, I began the process of bringing the house back to life.  And then as I opened the refrigerator I thought, “Oh no, should I throw all this food out?”  If you’re like me, you think carefully about your food budget.  I clip coupons and buy items on sale or in bulk.  Of course before our vacation, we drank all the milk and moved some food to the freezer.  There were no open yogurt containers nor eggs or meat in our fridge.  But what about the opened ranch dressing?  The butter?  Mayonnaise?   And how do I know if my freezer full of food is OK and safe to eat? 

Here are tips on what should be done when you get home to find that you’ve lost power.
• Get neighborly.  This is a great time to walk next door to see if they were home and can give you an idea of how long the power was out.  The length of the power outage is crucial in determining whether your food is safe.
• Call your power company.  They may be able to tell you how long the power was out in your area.  Check your last power bill or the company’s website for the outage number.
• Learn the food safety recommendations!  According to the USDA an unopened refrigerator will keep food safe for about 4 hours in the event of a power outage.  A full freezer will be safe for about 48 hours, but a half full freezer will keep food safe for only 24 hours.  
• Don’t taste to determine safety.  Even with normal color and odor, food may be spoiled.  When in doubt, THROW IT OUT! 
 For guidelines on specific refrigerated foods, see’s Refrigerated Food and Power Outages: When to Save and When to Throw Out.  Remember that checking your food with a food thermometer will give you the food’s current temperature.  Even though the food may currently be at the recommended temperature, without knowing the length of the power outage, your food in the refrigerator may have been in the temperature danger zone (above 40 ⁰F) for an indeterminate amount of time. 

For a quick recap, check out this one minute video: USDA Food Safety During Power Outages.   Even though I’m sure it’s hard for you as it is for me to throw away food, our health and the health of our families are always paramount.  And in the wake of recent power outages for many affected by all the bad weather, it’s helpful to remember that with a few steps you can be prepared whether for a weather event or a vacation, and minimize your potential loss of refrigerated and frozen foods. 



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