The recent weather has included wind, excessive rain and freezing weather. Typically that goes hand in hand with the possibility of power failure due to downed power lines.
If you find yourself with no power for a long period of time and you become concerned about the food in your freezer, this article is for you. You might want to clip this information and tape it directly to the side of your freezer if you have a substantial amount of your family’s food in frozen storage. Thawed food can lead to a major loss of dollars when there is a hefty load of groceries stored in the freezer and refrigerator.
If you anticipate that a power outage is coming, there are definitely some steps you can take to get ready:
Fill Up. If your freezer is not full, get it full. A full freezer stays safely frozen approximately 2 days; a half- full freezer for 1 day. Adding bulk bags of ice (like the ones bought at the convenience store) is a good way to fill up vacant freezer space. An alternate method is to fill empty milk jugs with water and allow them to freeze solid to take up any shelf space.
Group similar items together. Working quickly (letting the least amount of cold air escape) group similar food packages together so their juices from thawing will not drip and unnecessarily contaminate each other. Group meats and poultry on the lowest shelf on a separate tray so they are confined to themselves.
Thermometers can save money. Determining the safety of thawed food will be easier if you know the temperature inside the unit. Also, it is a good idea to set the freezer temperature control below 0oF prior to the power going off. The colder your freezer is when the power is lost, the better the chances of the food inside staying safe for a longer period of time.
Leave the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible. This recommendation might be easier said than done if there are kids in the house. Consider a visual cue for the kids to help them remember. Something as simple as tying a ribbon (or even a zip-tie) around the refrigerator/freezer handles or taping a “Do Not Open Until Power Returns” sign to the handle will typically do the trick.
Colder outside than inside. Often when power is off for an extended period of time, the refrigerator/freezer inside your home is a concern because it holds your daily-use food. If you know that the temperature outside is below freezing and your home refrigerator thermometer shows that it is creeping past the 2 hour mark at warmer than 40 degrees F, consider using an insulated cooler to pack your food in and place the cooler in a secure outside location where the temperature is 32 degrees or less.
Once power has returned, the food inspection begins. Here are the guidelines for which foods to keep and which to discard.
Always look and feel for ice crystals in the product. Any sign of ice crystals means the food can safely be refrozen.
Scrutinize food with no ice crystals. Warm temperatures and bacterial growth go hand in hand. Excessive bacteria in food can lead to food borne illness for your family.
Leftovers, Frozen Entrees, Casseroles: Discard all these items if they have completely thawed.
Meat, Fish, Poultry: Discard ANY packs that have odd odor or texture. Give extra special attention to sliced, cubed and ground meats since these are particularly perishable. If you don’t know how long your freezer has been off and the meat is completely thawed and warm, you should throw it away. If the meat is 40oF or less (very cold to the touch) and the freezer interior hasn’t exceeded 40oF, the meat can be refrozen.
Fruits: Thawed fruit can be refrozen as long as there are no visual signs or smells of mold, yeast, or decay.
Vegetables: Plain vegetables can be refrozen as long as they are still cold to the touch and show no signs of spoilage.
Discard these foods if held more than two hours above 40oF:
Any cooked or raw meats
Milk, sour cream, soy milk, yogurt
Soft Cheese of any kind
Lunch meats or hotdogs
Bagged, pre-cut greens
Custard or pudding
Raw cookie or biscuit dough
Open jars of vegetable juice, spaghetti sauce
Eggs and egg products
If you have questions about food safety or freezer failure, contact the local Clemson Extension Office and ask to be connected with Rhonda Matthews or email me at Rhonda@clemson.edu.