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What Foods to Throw Out When Power is Restored

PULLMAN, Wash. — What should you do about the food in your refrigerator and freezer when power is restored?

Here are some guidelines from Washington State University Cooperative Extension.

“With milk, let your nose be your guide,” says Val Hillers, Washington State University Cooperative Extension food safety specialist. “Assuming it’s pasturized, there shouldn’t be any pathogens in it. All you’ve got is some spoilage bacteria.”

Yogurt, which is high in acid and pasturized, should not be a risk.

Throw away any hard-boiled eggs if the refrigerator temperature has risen above 40 degrees for over two hours.

Hard cheeses, butter and margarine are probably safe. Discard if mold is present or if a rancid odor develops.

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be safe if they look acceptable. Check for mold, sliminess or yeasty smell and discard those items.

Fresh meats and poultry in the refrigerator should be discarded if the temperature rose above 40 degrees for more than two hours.

Opened mayonnaise, vinegar and oil salad dressing, jellies, jams, mustard, ketchup, pickles and olives should be safe.

A large freezer that is full should hold freezing temperature about two days; a half-filled freezer about one day, according to food safety experts.

But when power is restored, the first thing you need to do is to find out how warm the freezer got.

“The decisions you make about the food should be based on how warm the food got while the freezer was off,” Hillers says.

Any thermometer that measures ambient air temperature between 40 degrees and 80 degrees will work.

“If the food still has ice crystals in it, you can be fairly certain it stayed cool enough and it has not spoiled. If it is completely thawed, cooked foods in the freezer should be thrown out.”

It is probably safe to re-freeze raw beef, veal, lamb, pork and poultry below 40 degrees and if the color and odor are normal.

“In raw foods, spoilage bacteria usually grow a lot faster than the pathogens,” Hillers says. “You’re likely to have an off smell before the food is unsafe to eat.”

Frozen fruit juices should be safe as long as they don’t have an off smell.

Most frozen cooked foods, including commercially packaged frozen vegetables, should be discarded.

“In cooked foods, the pathogens that can make people sick have no competition,” Hillers says. “These foods generally are not heated enough to kill them when they are prepared for the dinner table.

“Generally speaking, raw foods are likely to be safer than cooked foods.”

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