Salvaging Food During an Electrical Outage

city-snowstormDespite living in a major American metropolis, Cooking Manager reader Miriam has been suffering from electrical outages on a regular basis. The most recent one lasted 52 hours, forcing her to evacuate to a friend. She brought along some cheese and other delicate items, but wondered about the rest of the food in her fridge.

Anyone, anywhere, can be affected by a sudden power outage. What should you do with your food when your power goes out?

The first thing to do is be prepared. Frozen foods last longer, especially if your freezer is full. Fill bottles of water, leaving room at the top, to add to your freezer when you have extra room. Make sure you have a decent pantry supply, so you’ll have food to eat without opening the fridge.You should also have one cooking method that is not dependent on electricity, like a gas burner.

Usually you’re going to have to make some tough decisions, because you don’t know how long the outage will last. Food in the refrigerator will stay cool for at least 4 hours, if you don’t open it. Even opening the refrigerator or freezer one time will significantly lower the inside temperature. But there’s no way to know for sure, because it depends on the temperature of your kitchen. And you may not even know when the power went out, unless you have an electric (not electronic) clock or 24-hour timer plugged into the wall to tell you when it stopped. Some clocks have a better that keeps them accurate even during an electric outage.

One website said to put the food in insulated buckets with ice. That won’t help most of us in a snowstorm, since the whole neighborhood would be affected and the ice would need to be replaced from time to time. And your freezer is already an insulated bucket with ice. Frozen food will generally keep for 24 hours. Avoid opening it to check how it’s doing. Put a quilt over the refrigerator or freezer to insulate it. If you have a thermometer in the refrigerator or freezer, you’ll know the temperature when you do open it.

Another option, in the winter, is to take the food outside. Your refrigerator is usually set to about 40 F° (5° C), and your freezer at about 0° F (-18° C). If you have access to the outside temperature you can assess what will happen. If you don’t want your milk to freeze look for an somewhere in-between, like an enclosed porch or garage.

When you do decide to open the refrigerator, you will need to assess the damage. Here’s a helpful guide for deciding whether your food is safe enough to eat.

What about frozen foods that are starting to defrost? It’s safe to refreeze the food as long as they still have ice crystals on them, or if the internal temperature of the food is 40° F (5° C) or lower. But the quality will suffer. Anything else should be cooked as soon as possible. After cooking it’s safe to refreeze.

You may also enjoy:

Preparing for a Planned Electrical Outage

How to Defrost Your Freezer

Is This Food Safe to Eat?

Photo credit: dyobmit