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Don’t Add Food-borne Illness to Power Outage Woes

PULLMAN, Wash. — Many food products that can’t be kept properly refrigerated because of power outages should be discarded, according to Washington State University Extension consumer food safety specialist Karen Killinger-Mann.

“I know it may seem wasteful, but improperly refrigerated foods can be a source of serious food-borne illnesses,” says Killinger-Mann. “It’s better to play it safe than to risk making you and your family sick.”

Generally, perishable foods should be kept refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the growth of food-borne pathogens. Refrigerated foods that have been stored above 40 degrees for less than two hours are safe. If they have been held for more than 2 hours above 40 F, they should be discarded. However, Killinger-Mann says there are some exceptions.

“Normally refrigerated foods that can be safely kept at temperatures above 40 degrees include hard cheeses, butter and margarine, fresh fruits and fruit juice,” she says. “Condiments including ketchup, mustard, olives, pickles and salad dressing are on the list too, along with jams, jellies and peanut butter.”

With frozen foods, Killinger-Mann says that if they still contain ice crystals they can be refrozen safely. Thawed fruits, fruit juices and fruit pies will be safe to eat unless they show signs of spoilage or have been contaminated by juices from thawing meats. All other thawed foods should be discarded.

Killinger-Mann recommends having appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine product safety.

“During a power outage keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep foods cold,” she says. “During an extended power outage, if you can get block ice or dry ice you can extend your appliances’ ability to keep foods cold. Put dry ice on top of a piece of cardboard to separate it from the food, and allow two to three pounds of dry ice for each cubic foot of freezer space.”

Killinger-Mann offers the following safety tips for specific foods:

  • Meat, poultry and seafood, including hot dogs and lunch meats, should be discarded if they have been stored above 40 F for more than two hours. Frozen meats that have intact ice crystals and an internal temperature below 40 F may be refrozen. Specialty meats such as liver and heart should never be refrozen.
  • Dairy products including milk, cream, soft cheeses and yogurt should be discarded if held above 40 F for more than two hours. The same goes for mayonnaise.
  • Hard cheeses, butter and margarine that are well packaged should remain safe at temperatures above 40 F, but discard if there are signs of mold or spoilage. Salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, olives, pickles, jams, jellies and peanut butter also can be stored safely without refrigeration.
  • Fresh eggs should be discarded if held above 40 F for more than 2 hours.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables can be safely stored without refrigeration, but should be discarded if there are signs of mold or spoilage.
  • Cooked food items and leftovers including cooked pasta, stews, casseroles, soups, potatoes, custards and puddings should be discarded if held above 40 F for more than two hours.



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