Still good eating or time to toss it? How to know if your food is safe after the storms and power outages
As the power comes back on for thousands of Oklahomans affected by this week's ice storms, the dreaded time has come to open up the refrigerator and freezer and assess the damage.
Is all that food still good to eat or does it need to be tossed? And since winter is still coming, how can you prepare for future power losses?
Here are some food safety tips to help you weather the storms:
1. It's probably time to clean out the fridge: Foods in the refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, and during a power outage, they remain safe to eat for about four hours, according to Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension food specialist.
Once perishable foods have been above 40 degrees for more than two hours, they are no longer safe to eat. This includes all kinds of meat (even lunch meat); raw and hard-cooked eggs; dairy products like milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream and yogurt; soft and shredded cheeses; creamy salad dressings that have been opened; and leftover cooked foods.
She said some foods can be kept at room temperature for a few days, including butter or margarine, hard and processed cheeses, fruit juice, pickles, baked goods, jelly and condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce.
2. Look for ice in your freezer: A full freezer usually will keep food frozen for 48 hours; if it it is only half full, it will keep food for about 24 hours, according to Brenda Hill, a family and consumer sciences educator with the Cleveland County OSU Cooperative Extension.
Refrigerator freezing compartments generally do not keep food frozen for an extended time.
- Related to this story
- Article: A resource for Oklahoma voters heading to the polls on Nov 3. This includes details on how and where to vote, absentee ballots, deadlines, and the candidates and issues that will be decided.
- Article: How to safely stay warm: Important things to know during recovery from Oklahoma ice storm
- Article: Oklahoma power outage: Numbers to know as work continues to get power back on
- Article: 'I was determined': Thousands brave weather to vote early in Oklahoma
- Article: Oklahoma prepares for outages that could last until weekend
- Article: Wait times high on Day 2 of early in-person voting in Oklahoma City metro
- Article: Why is it taking so long to get my lights back on? A complex system requires complex repairs
- Article: Baptist crew helps OKC metro-area residents after ice storm
- Article: Oklahoma election results 2020: Trump, Inhofe win in state
- Article: Follow Election Day 2020 live
- Article: Battleground states: The key states likely to decide the presidency
- Article: Trump vs Biden: Leaving after the election? Here's what expats say
- Article: No power, no problem: How one Oklahoma City polling site continued to count votes after losing electricty on election day
- Article: ‘I know my voice matters’: First-time voters cast ballots in Oklahoma
- Article: Oklahoma election 2020: Races to watch in the U.S.
- Article: U.S. Senate election results: Jim Inhofe defeats Abby Broyles in Oklahoma
- Article: Todd Hiett beats Todd Hagopian in corporation commission race
- Article: Oklahoma's Legislature: GOP makes gains in state House
- Article: Oklahoma judges retention election: Voters retain all state Supreme Court justices, appellate judges
- Article: State Question 814 results: Oklahoma voters reject TSET changes
- Article: U.S. congressional election results: Cole, Lucas retain seats
- Article: State Question 805 results: Oklahoma votes against changing sentence enhancements
- Article: Oklahoma County Sheriff election results: Tommie Johnson III defeats Wayland Cubit
- Article: Pa. race can't be called on Election Day: Why it's taking so long
- Article: Oklahoma District 5 election results: Stephanie Bice beats Kendra Horn for House seat
- Article: Oklahoma presidential election results: President Donald Trump sweeps all 77 counties
- Article: Oklahoma elects first Muslim, nonbinary state legislator
- Article: Oklahoma voters set record as Trump logged another GOP sweep
- Article: First-time Oklahoma poll worker describes long day helping with Tuesday's historic election
- Article: Oklahoma House members sworn in, solidifying historic GOP majority
- Article: Trump's Oklahoma County squeaker, Horn's Grady County connection and 3 other things about the election
- Article: Florida is spending billions to improve power reliability, could Oklahoma follow suit?
“In the event of a power outage, the basic guide for food safety of frozen food is whether or not the food still contains ice crystals,” Brown said in a statement. “For food still containing ice crystals, it would be a good idea to mark each package with an X or label as refrozen to indicate these items should be eaten first and as soon as possible."
If you find food in the freezer that has thawed and no longer has ice crystals, throw it away. The same goes if you notice blood from thawed meat.
3. When in doubt, throw it out: When perishable foods are at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, Hill said the conditions are perfect for bacteria to grow and potentially make people sick. If you're not sure if your food is safe, it's best to throw it away.
If a power outage lasts several days, Brown said be prepared to toss everything.
No one likes to waste grocery money, but if you're already facing a weather emergency, you don't want to get sick from eating spoiled food, too.
4. Get ready for next time: Since storms are a fact of life in Oklahoma, Hill said to consider keeping an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and the freezer so you'll know if the temperature inside drops below a safe level.
During an outage, keep the doors to the freezer and fridge closed as much as possible to help them stay cold until the power is restored.
Keep your freezer organized so that meat and poultry are stowed below other foods, so if they begin to thaw, their juices won’t drip onto ready-to-eat items.
Freezers are most effective when they're full, so if you typically have empty spaces in yours, fill clean milk jugs or plastic juice bottles with water and store them with your food. Or, stay cooler ready and keep the freezer full by tucking gel freezer packs in those empty spaces. Those blocks of ice can buy you several extra hours during a power outage.
If the power goes out when your freezer is only half full, Brown said to quickly group packages of food together so they can help keep each other cold and then fill the empty spaces with newspaper or blankets.