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PlayIt Safe With Food After A Storm

Here are some things you can do to help keep food safe during an extended power outage.

Nashville, Ark. – While I have not heard of major power outages with the recent storms, now is a good time to revisit food safety when the power goes out. No one wants to throw food away or suffer from food borne illnesses due to unsafe food. Here are some things you can do to help keep food safe during an extended power outage.

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the low temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours, if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours (2 days). A half-full freezer will hold the temperature for only about 24 hours or 1 day.
  • Dry ice or block ice will help to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as it needs to be if power is expected to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days.
  • If you have raw meat in the refrigerator, cook it by the second day of the power failure on an outdoor charcoal or gas grill.

            If your freezer has been off for more than a few hours, here are some precautions to take.

  • Never taste a food to determine if it is safe to eat.
  • Food may be refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40ºF or below. The only way to know the temperature of the freezer or refrigerator is to use an appliance thermometer or food thermometer. If the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40ºF or below, the food is safe.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe. Expect the quality to be less.
  • Food that contains ice crystals or is at 40ºF or below may also be cooked and served or frozen after cooking.
  • Remember that seafood will be among the first to thaw and will need attention first. Also, ground meat is likely to spoil before other meats.
  • Food that was held above 40ºF for more than two hours generally should be discarded because bacteria may multiply to unsafe levels under these conditions. The only foods that can be refrozen under these conditions are well-wrapped hard and processed cheeses, butter and margarine, breads and pastries without custard fillings, fruits and fruit juices that look and smell acceptable.
  • Vegetables held above 40ºF for less than six hours may be refrozen, but will lose some of their quality. Pecans and other nuts may be refrozen but again will suffer quality loss.

            When the power comes back on, use these guidelines to decide what to do with foods that were stored in the refrigerator.

  • Throw away any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items that have been without power for more than four hours.
  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, pickles, relishes, picante sauce, vinegar-based salad dressings, Worcestershire sauce and steak sauces should be fine. Discard opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and horseradish if above 50ºF for over eight hours. Jams, jellies, preserves and syrups are all right because sugar serves as a preservative. Do check for mold growth. If you see some, throw the contents of the jar away.
  • Hard cheese should be OK, and if the temperature hasn’t gotten too warm inside the refrigerator, blocks or slices of processed cheese can also be used. Well-wrapped butter and margarine can usually be kept as long as they do not melt, but should be discarded if rancid odors develop. Keep unopened packages of cream cheese, but throw them away if they are moldy.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are safe as long as they are still firm and there’s no sign of mold, a yeasty smell or sliminess. Juices are safe as long as there’s no evidence of mold growth and they look and smell okay. Cut fruit should be thrown away if above 40ºF for more than 2 hours.
  • Pecans, other nuts, peanuts and peanut butter also are safe to eat.

            If the power does not come back on for several days and food thaws in the refrigerator or freezer, you will be faced with having to clean it thoroughly. It may also mean there will be an odor that may be hard to get rid of. Getting rid of the odor takes time, patience and a combination of techniques.

  • Remove all food, unplug appliance and take out all removable parts. Empty the defrost water disposal pan (if it has one).
  • Wash each part thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Rinse with a disinfectant solution (1 teaspoon chlorine bleach for each gallon of water).
  • Wash the inside, including doors and gaskets, with a solution of hot water and baking soda. Rinse with disinfectant solution.
  • Do not mix ammonia and chlorine solutions! This is very dangerous as it gives off toxic fumes.
  • Leave the door open for at least 15 minutes to air out. If the odor remains, repeatedly heat and ventilate the inside walls. Use a hair dryer or portable convection heater (one that blows warm air). Do not use a heat source that can damage the appliance and do not leave it unattended.
  • Turn off the heat and then ventilate with a portable fan until the inside walls are cool. Repeat this process for several hours or until the odor is almost gone.
  • If some odor does remain, activated charcoal filters or a tray of loose activated carbon will absorb persistent odors. If you can’t find activated carbon, you can use crushed charcoal (the kind used for barbecue grills), but it may not be as effective. If possible, run the refrigerator or freezer with nothing but the carbon in it for a couple of days.

            Food is expensive and we do hate to throw it away, but consider how much you may have to pay in hospital and doctor bills if you eat a food that has a foodborne illness. Not to mention the wages lost from work. Play it safe when it comes to food safety and power outages.

            For more information on keeping food safe or storm recovery information, contact the Howard County Cooperative Extension Service at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

Recipe of the Week

            Here is a recipe that you can make on the grill at home. It’s good for when the power is out or when you are camping this summer. This recipe can also be prepared in a 400ºF oven as was done at the recent Cook Smart, Eat Smart program. Everyone loved the ease of preparation and agreed this was a definite do again meal!

Packet Meals

Choose any type protein:

  • Ground beef
  • Fish fillet
  • Skinless chicken breast or thigh
  • Boneless pork chop

            Choose your favorite vegetables – whole kernel corn, black beans, carrots, bell peppers, onion, potatoes, or mushrooms.

            Choose your favorite seasonings – salt, pepper, chili powder, Italian seasoning, etc.

            Add a sauce or topping such as salsa, Worcestershire sauce, Barbeque sauce, Italian dressing, cheese.


  1. Choose your protein, vegetable, spices and toppings/sauces.
  2. Wash and cut selected vegetables into small, evenly-sized pieces.
  3. Cut a 12” x 12” square of parchment paper or aluminum foil for each packet.
  4. Assemble your packet with hardy vegetables (carrots, potatoes) on the bottom. Place the protein source on top of the vegetables. Add delicate vegetables (mushrooms, onions, tomatoes) on top. Season with spices. Drizzle with sauce and top with cheese if desired.
  5. Fold over the packet to meet in the middle and fold down. Fold ends of packet over to seal well.
  6. Bake on gas or charcoal grill for about 30 to 40 minutes. Check for doneness with a food thermometer of the protein source. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before opening.

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


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