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Keeping Food Safe During A Power Outage

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Release from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has advice for Virginians who lost power during the March 6 snow storm: throw out the contents of your refrigerator if the power has been out for more than four hours and check food in your freezer carefully to be sure it's still safe to eat. "We have a lot of tips for consumers," said VDACS Commissioner Matthew J. Lohr. "But here is the main one: when in doubt, throw it out."

VDACS' food safety and meat and poultry inspectors will inspect food processors, grocery stores and other retail stores in affected areas to ensure they handle food safely. However, individual consumers also need to be aware that the potential for foodborne illness at home grows every day that the power is out.

VDACS offers the following basic tips for keeping food safe to eat during a power outage:

  • · Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
    • o The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. When that window passes, consumers will need to discard most of the items in the refrigerator.
    • o A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
    • o Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.
  • · If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it's important to cook each item thoroughly to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40° F for two hours or more, discard it.
  • · Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
  • · For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.

Once power is restored, consumers will need to determine whether their food is safe to eat using these guidelines:

  • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated food is likely safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. If the four-hour window has passed, discard any remaining perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers.

Keep in mind that perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked. Never taste food to determine its safety, and always discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.

The following foods are safe to consume even if they have been held above 40° F for two hours or more: hard cheeses, processed cheeses, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, jelly, relish, mustard, olives, pickles, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, fruit pies, bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, fruit juices, canned fruits, whole fresh fruits and raw vegetables except cut greens and cut tomatoes.

For more detailed information regarding which food items are safe to consume after an extended power outage, go to or

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