PG&E power outage and food: When in doubt, throw it out!

Here are some tips on how to deal with that powerless fridge during a PG&E shutdown

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If you are one the hundreds of thousands of Californians who have lost power in recent weeks, you know first-hand about one of the messiest and potentially hazardous items on the PG&E shutoff menu:

What to do about all that food in the refrigerator.

There’s plenty of advice out there, just waiting to be put into use. And it changes depending on whether you’re without power for a few hours, overnight or maybe even a few days. Here are some tips:

Keep your refrigerated and frozen foods as safe as possible

The Red Cross advises people who’ve lost power to their homes to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors CLOSED as much as possible. “First use perishable food from the refrigerator,” says the group’s tip sheet. “An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.  Then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.”

Think first step, second step

Use your non-perishable foods and staples only after using food you’ve taken from the refrigerator and freezer, says the Red Cross. “If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day,” they say, “prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.”

Four hours in, start to thin

Even though you’ve managed to keep your refrigerator door closed, after four hours without power you should toss perishable foods including  meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers. Another thing: don’t test old unrefrigerated perishable foods by tasting them; some foods may look or even smell OK, but if they’ve been too warm for too long they can host bacteria that may lead to food-borne illnesses.

It’s all about the temperature

The Red Cross advises throwing out any food that’s been exposed to temperatures 40 degrees for two hours or more. Also, immediately toss any food items with an unusual or ”off” odor, color or texture. Foods that have been in a freezer colder than 40 degrees and still have ice crystals on them can be refrozen once the power comes back on. If you’re not sure, test the temperature of the item with a food thermometer.

Prepare for the worst-case scenario

If it looks like the power will be out for more than just a few hours, get a cooler filled with ice ready to take over from the fridge. Store your freezer items there, along with any small refrigerated items that’ll fit, and stash the cooler in a cool dry spot, keeping it covered at all times.

What to toss, what to keep

Foodsafety.gov has a great website devoted to all things perishable/not perishable in a power outage. For the full list, go here. But check out these examples:

Discard:

  • Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes
  • Thawing meat or poultry
  • Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad
  • Gravy, stuffing, broth
  • Lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef
  • Pizza with any topping
  • Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”
  • Canned meats and fish, opened
  • Casseroles, soups, stews
  • Soft cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco
  • Shredded cheeses
  • Low-fat cheeses
  • Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
  • Baby formula, opened
  • Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
  • Custards and puddings, quiche
  • Fresh fruits, cut

Keep:

  • Hard cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano
  • Processed cheeses
  • Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar)
  • Butter, margarine
  • Fresh fruits, uncut
  • Fruit juices, opened
  • Canned fruits, opened
  • Dried fruits, raisins, candied fruits, dates

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