Keeping Food Safe During A Power Outage

Release from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:

The Virginia
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has advice for
Virginians who lost power during the March 6 snow storm: throw out the contents
of your refrigerator if the power has been out for more than four hours and
check food in your freezer carefully to be sure it's still safe to eat. “We have
a lot of tips for consumers,” said VDACS Commissioner Matthew J. Lohr. “But here
is the main one: when in doubt, throw it out.”

VDACS' food
safety and meat and poultry inspectors will inspect food processors, grocery
stores and other retail stores in affected areas to ensure they handle food
safely. However, individual consumers also need to be aware that the potential
for foodborne illness at home grows every day that the power is out.

VDACS offers the following basic tips for keeping food safe to eat during a
power outage

  • ·
    Keep the
    refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to
    maintain the cold temperature.

    • o
      refrigerator will keep food cold for about four
      if it is unopened. When that window passes, consumers will need
      to discard most of the items in the refrigerator.
    • o
      A full
      will keep the temperature for approximately 48
      (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
    • o
      Buy dry
      or block ice
      to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power
      is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice
      should keep an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two
  • ·
    If you plan to
    eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe
    temperatures, it's important to cook each item thoroughly to the
    proper temperature
    to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be
    present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40° F for two
    hours or more, discard it.
  • ·
    Wash fruits and
    with water from
    a safe source before eating.
  • ·
    For infants, try
    to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When
    using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local
    water source is potentially contaminated.

Once power is restored, consumers will need to determine whether their
food is safe to eat using these guidelines:

  • If an appliance
    thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when
    the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the
    food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • If a thermometer
    has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to
    determine its safety. You can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food
    still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to
    refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated
    food is likely safe as long as the power was out for no more than four
    and the refrigerator door was kept shut. If the four-hour window
    has passed, discard any remaining perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish,
    eggs or leftovers.

in mind that perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that
are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed,
even when they are thoroughly cooked. Never taste food to determine its safety,
and always discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact
with raw meat juices.

The following
foods are safe to consume even if they have been held above 40° F for two hours
or more: hard cheeses, processed cheeses, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese,
jelly, relish, mustard, olives, pickles, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, fruit pies,
bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, fruit juices, canned fruits, whole fresh fruits
and raw vegetables except cut greens and cut tomatoes.

For more
detailed information regarding which food items are safe to consume after an
extended power outage, go to or

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